By Matt Turer / @MattTurer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
MARIONVILLE, Mo. — “She’s a freshman. She’s a freshman. She’s a freshman.”
That chant from Miller’s student section echoed over and over Friday night with the Cardinals version of the fab four combining for 48 points in a 52-31 district championship win over 3-seed Ash Grove at Marionville High School.
Claudia Hadlock led the top-seeded Cardinals with 20 points, Kaylee Helton added 16 and Payton Richardson and Ashlen Kingsley each scored six in the Cardinals first district championship since winning the Class 2 District 12 title in 2016.
After graduating five of the team’s top six leading scorers last season, a district championship should have seemed like a long shot.
Not to Miller coach Hannah Wilkerson.
“I knew they were capable of anything but that it would take a lot of hard work,” Wilkerson said. “They’ve come in day-in-and-day-out and faced adversity all year. A young team like that, I’m so proud of them. We’ve got Bethany [Gulick] and Jess [Epps] as our only upperclassmen and they’ve done a great job leading this team.”
Averaging over 17 points per game this season, Hadlock was held to just three in the first quarter before turning it on with five in the second quarter and 12 in the third quarter. Helton did the same, scoring 11 of her 16 points in the second half.
Miller has now won 15 straight games after a 9-5 start to the season. Its last loss was 45-35 against Bolivar on January 5.
“Our goal after Christmas break was to reach that turning point of let’s not play like freshmen anymore,” Wilkerson said. “Let’s play like we’re a year older. And I saw that turning point after the Walnut Grove tournament. We went on to the Stockton Tournament and won that, and they just kept getting more consistent.”
Miller’s previous longest winning streak was 14 games in 2009-10, when the Cardinals finished 28-6 and took third at state in what was Wilkerson’s senior season as a player.
“Coaching is a lot more stressful than playing, but the girls make me look good,” Wilkerson said. “I give them the tools and it’s up to them to execute, and they do it every single day.”
Miller (24-5) moved to District 11 in 2017, falling in the semifinals that season and finishing 2018 as runner-up.
Ash Grove (16-12) led 5-1 for most of the first quarter before Miller went on a 9-0 run in the final 1:50 of the quarter. The Cardinals pushed their run to 12-0 early in the second quarter and led 25-11 at the half.
Ash Grove finishes its first year in Class 2 as district runner-up. The Pirates hadn’t gotten out of the first round of district play since advancing all the way to the Class 3 state championship game in 2013-14.
First season finishing above .500 since 2015-16, when the Pirates went 14-12. Khole Moad led the Pirates with nine points followed by six from Kennedi Climer and Emme McClelland.
AGHS | 5 | 6 | 7 | 13 | — | 31 |
MHS | 10 | 15 | 16 | 11 | — | 52 |
Ash Grove- Khole Moad 9, Kennedi Climer 6, Emma McClelland 6, Emma Eagleburger 4, Riley Hammons 3, Briley Bagley 2, Patsy Gorski 1
Miller- Claudia Hadlock 20, Kaylee Helton 16, Ashlen Kingsley 6, Payton Richardson 6, Jessica Epps 3, Bethany Gulick 1