By Matt Turer // @MattTurer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
WALNUT GROVE, Mo. — Forsyth came into the Walnut Grove Holiday Classic as the defending champs, but this team is playing to avenge an early season tournament defeat as much as it’s playing to defend last season’s title.
The Panthers opened this season in their own tournament, falling in the championship at home by 33 points to Strafford. Friday night, that game was still fresh in their minds.
“They’re getting hungry to get another opportunity to be in another championship ballgame here,” Forsyth head coach Eric Rogers said. “They want another chance.”
Forsyth will get that chance Saturday night thanks to a 76-67 win Friday over 3-seed Verona (9-2) that saw five different Panthers finish in double figures in a near wire-to-wire win. Dawson Deroo and Buck Sanders led the Panthers with 17 each, Jon Deroo scored 12 and Trevor Turner and Nick Lumley scored 10.
“This ranked up there as the best game we’ve played all season,” Rogers said. “We finally felt like we put four quarters together. The boys played hard.”
The Panthers came out of the blocks hot with a 10-4 run and only trailed three times, all in the first half and never by more than two points. Forsyth took the lead for good with 5:00 left in the first half on a bucket by Jon Deroo.
Neither team led by more than five points from the 3:16 mark of the first quarter to the 6:05 mark of the fourth quarter when Forsyth pushed its lead to 55-47. Forsyth went up by double-digits for the first time at 61-51 with 4:12 to play and twice pushed its lead to 12.
Verona pulled within one point three times in the third quarter but could never quite get over the hump.
“I thought in the third quarter we had kind of stymied them offensively, and we were careless and had poor shot selection,” Verona head coach Brad Stewart said. “I thought that was our time to take control of the game, and we did not.”
The numbers back up Stewart’s analysis with Forsyth’s 14 third-quarter points being its lowest single-quarter output of the game.
“I told our guys we have to give them some credit. They played really well. We stopped their execution, but we didn’t even maintain the pace we had played at in the first half and we forced some plays. And then in the fourth quarter [Forsyth] executed well,” Stewart said.
Forsyth faces 4-seed Billings in the Saturday’s tournament title game. A win would make Forsyth the fifth team to win back-to-back Walnut Grove Tournament championships.
“Billings is a solid young team and is very well coached,” Rogers said. “It’s going to be important to get an early jump [like we did tonight], but we’re gonna give our best and see what we can do.”
VHS // 19 – 16 – 12 – 20 || 67
FHS // 19 – 18 – 14 – 25 || 76
Verona- Kolton Pinkly 21, Caleb Hillhouse 21, Jaiden Carrasquillo 12, Eddie Gutierrez 8, Anthony Martinez 3, Austin Valdez 2
Forsyth- Dawson Deroo 17, Buck Sanders 17, Jon Deroo 12, Trevor Turner 10, Nick Lumley 10, Jarrett Teel 8, Jordan Letterman 2