Walnut Grove fans have seen this story before.
A close game throughout, highlighted with a back and forth final quarter, only to see the Lady Tigers come up short.
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The 2012 Class 1 championship script was seemingly playing out again in the minds of Lady Tigers’ fans when Chamois senior forward Miranda Brandt’s floater in the lane evened the game at 46 all; giving Walnut Grove the ball with a chance to determine its own fate.
Walnut Grove coach Rory Henry decided to put the ball in the hands of all-state guard Heather Harman.
“We drew up that set in the time out and she asked coach (Jeff) Cope what should I do, do I should it or drive? We both looked at each other and said take it to the hole, go finish it,” said Henry.
Harman did just that, Euro stepping her way to the rim before being fouled by Chamois guard Alyssa Bullock, giving her two free throws with just 1.1 second left.
“When she got fouled I turned to Coach Cope and he said ‘it’s over, she’s going to hit this’. That’s the confidence we have in her, we knew she was going to step up and hit that free throw,” said Henry.
The junior guard did just that, sinking 1-of-2 free throws to give the Lady Tigers the 47-46 win and the Class 1 state championship Saturday night in Mizzou Arena.
“I’m a pretty confident free thrower shooter, but when I stepped up and looked at the clock and the score I was like ‘oh god, this is just like last year’. I knew that was the only opportunity we were going to have left. I told myself ‘it’s just a free throw’. We shoot them all the time in practice; we have to make 50 before we can leave. So, I just stepped up and knocked it down,” said Harman.
For Harman, who finished with a team-high 20 points including five 3s, the win helps erase the memory of last year’s state championship game in which the Lady Tigers ironically came up on the wrong end of late free throws, falling to Eminence 36-35.
“I can’t even explain it; I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. When I think about it I cry, every time. It’s the best feeling in the world. That is what we’ve been working toward forever, ever since we were little kids. To finally have it, it means so much,” said Harman.
Saturday’s game didn’t have a typical Walnut Grove feel to it. The usually high-scoring Lady Tigers were pulled into a half court contest by the bigger Lady Pirates. Chamois utilized the size of 5-foot-11 SIU-Edwardsville sign Miranda Bradnt to bully the small front line of Walnut Grove.
“She is so talented, such a strong kid, I don’t know if we’ve seen a post player that good,” said Henry.
Brandt would finish with game-highs in points (31) and rebounds (13), scoring on an array of low post moves and offensive rebounds, despite the work horse effort of Walnut Grove’s Karsyn Hejna.
“I told Karsyn I’ll take you against any kid, any day, but this girl is going to score points on you, and she knew that. We knew she was going to score, we were going to play the best defense we could play and she was going to score and there was nothing we could about it. I didn’t expect her to have 31, but you have to tip your hat to that girl. She’s an unbelievable athlete,” said Henry.
Hejna, an all-state softball player, gave her all, including her body to stop the Lady Pirate, spraining her arm while drawing a first half charge.
Noted Walnut Grove guard Lexi Harman also made her presence felt on the defensive end. The junior guard finished with 10 steals and seven rebounds, in addition to her 13 points, while routinely disrupting the Chamois offensive attack.
The Lady Pirates finished with 18 turnovers leading to 20 Walnut Grove points.
“We want Lexi on whoever is handling the ball and making it miserable for them. That’s what she does. They kept switching and we’d switch, she did an unbelievable job. I can’t believe that she can play that hard for four quarters. She never comes out of the game, especially in big situations like that. She just sets the tone for us defensively. Her and Karsyn both, Karsyn does it from the inside with that physical presence and Lexi does it on the perimeter to their guards. These two absolutely set the tone for the entire team,” said Henry.
Despite the success of this season, 2013-14 will include equally lofty expectations for the senior less Lady Tigers.
“We got everybody back and we add Megan Shuler. Megan was our sixth man at the Final Four last year, and I told a people this summer you better remember this name, she’s going to be the next one. She’s going to be that third scorer, that third player that we need to step up. The injury was really tragic for her, but she’s a junior and I know she’s going to come back next year and have a big year. Also, Karsyn’s sister is 6-foot, so that height we’ve been missing, it’ll be nice to have a big girl in there next year,” said Henry.
The Lady Tigers end their season 30-2, and will take a 17 game winning streak into the 2013-14 season.