By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Faith Gilkey hit a career milestone, then hit the floor for loose balls.
Because you don’t win 10 straight district titles without having a championship culture.
Gilkey, the reigning Class 1 Player of the Year, scored a game-high 33 to lead Walnut Grove past Climax Springs 67-27 in the Class 1 District 7 Tournament title game on Friday night in Bolivar.
It’s the 10th straight district title for Walnut Grove.
Gilkey says the reigning Class 1 state champs have their sights set on something bigger.
“The district championship, it’s like the state championship for a lot of teams,” Gilkey said. “For us, it’s just another step closer to being where we want to be. It’s special, don’t get me wrong. But we’re not finished yet.”
Walnut Grove (24-5 overall) plays Leeton (23-2 overall) at 6 p.m. on March 3 at Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia in the Class 1 sectional round. Neither team has lost to a Class 1 school this season.
Gilkey surpassed 2,000 career points with a buzzer-beating trey to end the first quarter.
Had Walnut Grove fans not flashed orange “2,000” signs, she may not have known of her achievement.
“I had no idea I was that close coming in,” said Gilkey, who entered the game with 1,990 career points. “I was so excited. I never thought I would get to 2,000.”
Walnut Grove suffocated Climax Springs with its trademark full-court press. As the turnovers piled up, Walnut Grove’s lead grew bigger.
After a slow start, Walnut Grove led 16-4 after one quarter and 38-11 by halftime.
“It was a bad matchup for them, honestly,” said Walnut Grove coach Rory Henry. “They’re a really good team that we made look worse than they are.
“Matchup wise, we knew what we liked. They wanted to slow it down. I told the kids in the locker room, ‘Tempo wins.’ And we had to play with our tempo.”
Said Gilkey: “That was our plan all along. We knew if we could just get out and put pressure on them right from the beginning, then we would get a lead pretty quickly.”
Gilkey and the Lady Tigers didn’t let up, diving on the floor and making hustle plays even when the game was well in hand.
“When you’re best player’s diving on the floor when you’re up 20 or 30 in games like that, everyone else wants to do that,” Henry said. “That’s the thing I like about her most: how hard she plays and the tone she sets.”
Autumn Wallace led Climax Springs with 19 points.
Climax Springs finishes 19-9 overall, which is its best record in at least a decade. Just three years ago, the Lady Cougars did not have enough players to field a team.
Walnut Grove 67, Climax Springs 27
Climax Springs 4 7 8 8 – 27
Walnut Grove 16 22 24 5 – 67
Climax Springs (19-9 overall) – Autumn Wallace 19, Maranda Burke 4, Jayden Butterfield 3, Abi Wolfe 1
Walnut Grove (24-5 overall) – Faith Gilkey 33, Makayla McVay 18, Lauren Johnson 6, Jaedyn Johnson 5, Sadye Crump 3, Morgan Hailey 2