The Walnut Grove Lady Tigers say they play their best basketball when they’re having fun.
If that’s the case, Walnut Grove's players must have felt like elementary kids with extended recess time Thursday afternoon.
Walnut Grove set a new MSHSAA Show-Me Showdown record with 55 first-half points, on its way to a lopsided 86-25 Class 1 semifinals victory over Marion County.
“At one point, I was over there just coaching and you’re battling for every possession since it's state and all, I looked back at my coaches and asked, ‘Are we really up 30?’” said Walnut Grove coach Rory Henry. “It just kind of hit me. I didn’t realize how well we were shooting the ball until I saw the score at that point.”
Walnut Grove actually got off to a somewhat slow start, leading just 4-2 after the first three minutes The Lady Tigers’ early slump would not last much longer.
Walnut Grove ripped off a 22-2 run. By the time Marion County’s Destiny Johnson scored with a minute left in the first quarter, the Mustangs trailed by 20.
Walnut Grove extended its lead to 39-8 early in the second half and led by 38 at halftime. The previous MSHSAA state record for first-half points was set by the Scott County Central girls, who scored 53 in 1982.
“I didn’t know we were up by that much either,” said Walnut Grove senior Madi Freeze, who had 13 points. “We were just having fun out there. The more we have fun, and coach probably hates it, but the more fun we have the better we play. We goof off a lot. We really do play our best basketball when we’re having fun and laughing with each other.
“If someone on our team scores but they do something dumb, we’ll just laugh at them as their running back down the court. A lot of people probably just look at us like, ‘Are you not being serious?’ But that’s how we play our best.”
Walnut Grove senior Heather Harman led all players in points (21), rebounds (9) and assists (6). Walnut Grove shot 32-for-64 from the field to Marion County’s 10-for-41.
Marion County also committed 32 turnovers. In its three postseason games, Walnut Grove has won by an average of 37.6 points.
“It’s all come together lately,” Henry said. “These last three games, I feel, have been the best basketball we’ve played since I’ve been at Walnut Grove.”
The Lady Tigers will try for a fourth straight game of quality basketball, when they play North Andrew on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Mizzou Arena for the Class 1 title. North Andrew beat Chadwick 67-53 in the other Class 1 semifinal game.
Walnut Grove will be playing in the finals for the third straight season, after losing by one point in 2012 and winning by one point in 2013. It’s also the final career game for Walnut Grove’s six-player senior class.
“It’s bittersweet that it’s our last trip up here and last game (Saturday),” said senior Miranda Allison. “But I wouldn’t wanna do it with anyone else.”
Walnut Grove 86, Marion County 25
Walnut Grove 28 27 20 11 --- 86
Marion Co. 6 11 6 2 --- 25
Walnut Grove - Heather Harman 21, Madi Freeze 13, Lexi Harman 11, Raylie Hejna 11, Audree Crain 7, Miranda Allison 6, Megan Shuler 6, Karsyn Hejna 6, Shelby Harman 5
Marion County - Devan Johnson 9, Sadie Pollard 6, Roxanne Tobias 4, Victoria Hales 2, Destiny Johnson 2, Jade Johnson 2
FULL BOX SCORE