By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Mountain Grove, Mo. — Some players thrive in chaos.
While it’s no secret Faith Gilkey belongs on that list, Eminence got a harsh reminder Tuesday night in the Class 1 sectional round.
Gilkey poured in a game-high 34 points — 12 in the first quarter — as Walnut Grove raced away to a 74-57 victory.
For Walnut Grove head coach Rory Henry, forcing a hectic tempo from the opening tip was a vital part of the game plan.
“That’s what our goal was — we wanted to get out and pressure and run and control the tempo and and I was really proud of the effort,” Henry said. “First quarter, we set the set the tone for what we wanted to do.”
The Lady Tigers started the game with a 10-2 run and forced nine turnovers in the opening period, alone.
Tristan Weaver’s basket with 4:40 remaining halted the Walnut Grove run momentarily; however, Gilkey and Grace McPhail immediately followed up with another 6-0 burst.
The Lady Tigers led 24-16 after the first and took a 42-28 lead into the half.
Henry noted part of his team’s defensive game plan was to keep the ball away from Weaver, a 6-foot-1 center capable of scoring points in bunches.
“Number one — we wanted to keep it out of [Weaver’s] hands, period, and just pressure their guards,” Henry said. “Also, make her run and make her play our tempo and all that stuff. We were going to collapse down hard when she caught it.”
Weaver led the Lady Redwings with 18 points, dominating the interior whenever the ball made it to the block.
Walnut Grove led by as many as 21 points midway through the third period, but the pesky Eminence squad would not go away quietly.
Weaver, Brynne Spurgin and Peyton Shelton combined for 12 points in the quarter for Eminence; however, each time the Lady Redwings seemed poised to make a run, there was Gilkey attacking the basket.
Whatever defense Eminence tried to run, it didn’t seem to matter to the sophomore guard.
“They came out first in man,” Gilkey said. “Which I just kind of attacked, but then they switched to a really wide zone, so there were a lot of openings.”
Henry praised Gilkey for constantly pushing the tempo and creating an ideal scenario for her game.
“She set the tone — exactly what we talked to her about — and that’s the type of game that she thrives in,” Henry said. “It’s just kind of a chaotic and up and down, and she really came to play tonight.”
While Gilkey’s play certainly helped the Lady Tigers thwart any potential rally in the second half, Walnut Grove’s performance from the free throw line was also a significant factor.
The Lady Tigers shot a combined 25-for-27 free throws on the evening, with Gilkey netting a perfect 11-for-11.
For Gilkey, constant repetition in practice has definitely paid off when it counts.
“Every day after practice, I make ten in a row,” Gilkey said. “I don’t go home until I make ten in a row, every day, after practice.”
Myranda McVay scored 15 points, and Lauren Johnson added 13 to join Gilkey in double figures.
After the game, Eminence head coach Jim Blackwell talked about his team’s accomplishments during the season.
“I’m just thankful for the year that we’ve had,” Blackwell said. “We’ve been really close, the last three years within our district, and I felt this team got over the hump a little bit. I know tonight didn’t go like any of us wanted, but they never quit. We didn’t play very well, but you sometimes gotta tip your hat to Walnut Grove. They’re really good and exposed every weakness we had.”
Weaver was joined in double figures by Spurgin (12) and Sydney Williams (11) for the Lady Redwings, who finish the season 21-7.
Up next for Walnut Grove (24-6) is a quarterfinal matchup against South Iron, March 2, in Van Buren.
Class 1 Sectional Final: Walnut Grove – 74, Eminence – 00
Walnut Grove 24 18 15 17 — 74
Eminence 16 12 14 16 — 57
Walnut Grove scoring: Faith Gilkey – 34, Makayla McVay – 15, Lauren Johnson – 13, Myranda McVay – 6, Grace McPhail – 4, Sadye Crump – 2
Eminence scoring: Tristan Weaver – 18, Brynne Spurgin – 12, Sydney Williams – 11, Peyton Shelton – 7, Savannah Victor – 5, Meagan Byerly – 4