By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Basketball schedules are put together before every season. But if the 2020-2021 campaign has proven anything, it’s that those schedules are subject to change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused teams to cancel, postpone, reschedule, or even pick up games not originally on the schedule. And, that was the case Thursday night.
With both teams needing to get games in this season, the Kickapoo Lady Chiefs invited the Walnut Grove Lady Tigers to come and play in a matchup of not only two of the top teams in southwest Missouri, but in the state.
Kickapoo – ranked No. 2 in Class 6 – outscored Walnut Grove – No. 1 in Class 1 – 22-8 in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 65-44 nonconference victory.
“We have been having trouble finding people to play us and I give the Walnut Grove girls and Coach (Rory) Henry a lot of credit for stepping up; willing to play anybody, anywhere,” Kickapoo coach Jim Pendergrass said. “That’s a credit to their program and that’s why they’re good. This was a great opportunity for our girls tonight, to be able to play them.
“I was really proud of our kids because it’s been a while since we’ve been out there on the court, and it takes a little bit to get going. In the fourth quarter, we got some momentum and were able to get some stops. (Walnut Grove’s Faith) Gilkey was unconscious there in the third quarter shooting the basketball. But in the fourth quarter, we were able to get some stops and get some scores and gain some momentum. And, I want to give our girls a lot of credit; we challenged them and they really stepped up.”
It did take the Lady Chiefs (13-2) a while to find their rhythm, since it had been two weeks since they had played a game. But, Walnut Grove (8-3) gave Kickapoo all it could handle for three quarters.
The Lady Chiefs’ size and athleticism is something the Lady Tigers don’t see often in Class 1, but the two-time defending state champions went into halftime and into the fourth quarter down only seven points.
“I’m proud of our kids, absolutely,” Walnut Grove coach Rory Henry said. “We knew coming in here… we talked about it as just kind of playing with house money. We thought that no matter what we did in here, as good as they are, it was going to make us a better team. I’m absolutely proud of how they played – the tough environment, a physical, physical game that we don’t see a lot on the Class 1 level.
“We had a chance. We had cut it to six and made some big runs. And, we had some players that I thought grew up.”
A key to those big runs was the Lady Tigers’ two-time Class 1 Player of the Year, Faith Gilkey. The senior scored 14 points in the third quarter, including four 3-pointers, to keep Walnut Grove in the game.
But the Lady Chiefs have an all-state senior of their own. Indya Green scored 16 of her team-high 25 points in the second half, including six during Kickapoo’s final run late in the fourth quarter.
“I can’t say enough about Indya Green,” Pendergrass said. “She’s really had a fantastic year and been very consistent. And, Bella (Fontleroy) has done a great job. She’s a hard matchup for anybody and has been able to play a lot of positions. She blocked a lot of shots tonight by getting her hands up and made it tough on some shooters.”
Green, who also pulled down 16 rebounds, said it was rough going in the first half.
“It took a while for us to get back into the swing of things,” Green said of the layoff. “I think in the second half, we got together. We haven’t played in a while, so we’ve just got to go out there and just see how things go. We can’t underestimate any team.”
In spite of what seemed like a lopsided loss, Henry said he sees nothing but positives from his team’s effort Thursday night.
“Our goal is to win another state championship,” Henry said of his team, which is shooting for a third-straight Class 1 title. “And, to go compete with a team at that level, you know, we’re on the path.
“We’re just happy that Kickapoo was willing to play us. We don’t get a lot of games of this magnitude on our level, and for them to be willing to step up and play us, I tip my hat to them and am happy that we got this opportunity.”
Gilkey led all scorers with 26 points and Lauren Johnson added 10 for Walnut Grove.
Fontleroy added 15 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks for Kickapoo.
KICKAPOO 65, WALNUT GROVE 44
WALNUT GROVE 10-9-17-8—44
KICKAPOO (13-2) – Kaya Goldsby 5, Bella Fontleroy 15, Rachel Senn 9, Indya Green 25, Kya Johnson 6, Brooke Turner 3, Miya Nieto 2.
WALNUT GROVE (8-3) – Faith Gilkey 26, Lauren Johnson 10, Jaedyn Johnson 5, Sadye Crump 2, Makayla McVay 1.