After falling in last year’s state title game to Eminence 36-35, Walnut Grove has been on a mission to get back to Columbia. Do the Lady Tigers have what it takes to bring home the hardware?
Journey through the Tourney – The District 5 champs have blown through the first two rounds of the state tournament, routing St. Elizabeth 78-52, before ending Drexel’s season 64-45 in the quarters. Going back to district play Walnut Grove has won its five elimination games by an average of 42 points. The recent string of lopsided games is nothing new for the Lady Tigers. In their 28 wins this season, 26 were by at least 10 points.
Pictures: Walnut Grove vs. Drexel - CLICK HERE
Why they should win – Walnut Grove is the easy favorite to bring home a state championship in Class 1. Not only do the Lady Tigers have the experience of advancing to the title game last year, they also offer one of the state’s best backcourt tandems in cousins Heather and Lexi Harman. The Harmans are long, athletic, and love to get after you. Heather has a LeBron like stat line, flirting with a triple-double nightly with her 20 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. Lexi typically draws the Lady Tigers toughest defensive assignment, regardless of position. The 5-foot-9 junior is extremely active, averaging nearly five steals per game and tallying 250 deflections on the season. It is that defensive activity that has made the smallish (5-foot-9 Heather is their tallest player) Lady Tigers so tough. They pick you up full-court from tip to horn ala Nolan Richardson. The 27 turnovers Walnut Grove forces per game leads to a lot of layups and transition 3s that break your back.
Pictures: Walnut Grove vs. St. Elizabeth - CLICK HERE
Bump in the road – However, Walnut Grove is human. The Lady Tigers typically go six deep. That lack of depth could be a concern in Columbia, especially if foul problems become an issue. The other area of concern for Walnut Grove is in the paint. In losses to Mount Vernon and Crane, the Lady Tigers were beaten on the glass by bigger, more physical frontlines. The Crane blueprint is probably the most effective when looking for ways to beat Walnut Grove. The Lady Pirates, who are in the Class 2 Final Four, continually broke the Lady Tiger press and attacked the 3-on-2, 2-on-1 situations it presented at the other end.
Pictures: Walnut Grove vs. Dadeville - CLICK HERE
X – Factor(s): Audree Crain & Madisyn Freeze – The play of these two wings will be critical to a Walnut Grove state championship. Karsyn Hejna, who is just 5-foot-8, is a warrior inside on a nightly basis. Crain and Freeze will have to help the Lady Tigers in team rebounding, especially on the defensive end. Offensively, they will both need to continue to do what they do best. For Crain, she is an excellent finisher in transition, usually on one-handed dimes from Heather. For Freeze, she will need to let it fly from 3. She shoots it well (38%) and often (157 attempts) from the land of plenty.
Pictures: Walnut Grove vs. Pleasant Hope - CLICK HERE
What lays ahead – Walnut Grove opens with Chadwick (25-5) at 6:40 p.m. on Thursday in Columbia at the Hearnes Center. On the other side of the Final Four is a match up between Mercer (28-1) and Chamois (22-7)