In the words of Andy Williams, It’s the most wonderful time of the year. From December 22nd – December 31st, we have our holiday tournaments. Sure, the big ones are being played at the campus of MSU and Drury with the Blue and Gold and Pink and White (See Blue and Gold-ology and Pink and White-ology articles) However, the Walnut Grove Girls tournament is becoming one of the best small school holiday tournaments in the area. The previous two years the championship has featured a state ranked matchup between Miller and Walnut Grove. This year, Walnut Grove may be down a bit, but Miller returns as one of the best teams in Class 2. Hollister is one of the best teams in Class 4. Ash Grove grabbed the 4 seed but boasts arguably the best player in the tournament with MSU bound Khloe Moad. It has all of the makings to once again be one of the premier small school girls’ tournaments in SWMO.
1 Miller vs 16 Fair Play
I will preface this by saying I have had a lot of experience covering Miller. I know the ins and outs of their game and what they want to do and let me tell you. If they do to you what they want, they are scary. They are led by a trio of seniors that may be as good as any in the area. Claudia Hadlock, Kaylee Helton, and Payten Richardson and the Lady Cardinals are coming off of a loss to C2 #9 Blue Eye in a tight game in which the Lady Cardinals led the majority of the way. The stifling defense of Miller will be hard to go up against.
Skylan Says: The most skilled, and more talented team will win this one in a blowout win. That team is Miller.
8 Walnut Grove vs 9 Conway
This should be a fantastic game. Walnut Grove knows how to win. They have proven it through the last few years. However just about everyone on those great Lady Tigers teams are gone starting with Faith Gilkey who has played great at SBU as a freshman. Conway is coming off of a good year and they bring back the two reasons why in Graceson and Jamison Cromer. They will play a big part in how this one plays out. However, to Walnut Groves credit, they have already won some big games over Greenfield, Hillcrest, Golden City and Wheatland. You better buckle up because one will be a lot of fun.
Skylan Says: This one could go either way. So, I will side with experience over a hot start. Conway stuns host Walnut Grove with a huge 4th quarter from the Cromer sisters.
4 Ash Grove vs 13 Niangua
Ash Grove comes in with a bit of a lackluster resumé compared to what I feel like they should be at but don’t get me wrong, This Ash Grove team is still very good. They have the best individual player in Khloe Moad, but the Lady Pirates go further than just her. Add in Emma McClelland and Brittany Gilliland and there’s a trio that no one wants to see. Niangua, I have admittedly not seen in the last several years. They come in 5-3 with several quality wins over Galena and Pleasant Hope. Which more impressively they have done with only six girls on the roster
Skylan Says: The depth of the Lady Pirates will be key in this game as Ash Grove moves on.
5 Morrisville vs 12 Greenfield
This one is going to be one that one expects to be a tight one but promises to be great. Morrisville is another I haven’t seen either one of these teams on the court, but I have seen pieces of these teams either in SWMO Basketball events or on the volleyball court and I will be the first to tell you that this Greenfield squad isn’t the 12th best team in this field. Marlie Wright is one of the fiercest competitors in the field and she will wear that on her sleeve. She is joined by the Torres twins Trista and Tatum. However earlier in the season Tatum was hurt and I am not sure if she is back or not.
Skylan Says: The Lady Wildcats are young but don’t get it twisted, they have had plenty of experience. Morrisville may be a higher seed, but it is Greenfield who captures the upset victory.
2 Hollister vs 15 Verona
Hollister comes in as the two seed deservedly so. Hollister is 5-1. They have already beat Crane. They have already beat Fair Grove and they are on a warpath coming into the tournament. Their roster is loaded with a pair of twin and Clever transfers Carly and Mackenzie Simpson to go along with the big girl in the middle Brisa Gere. They will come with skill, experience, and a want to knock off a very good Miller squad later in the tournament. First off, they will have to go through Verona. To say that the 1-8 Verona hasn’t had the start of the season they hoped for would be. Yoselin Martinez has had a good start to the year but overall, the Lady Wildcats have not been what they had hoped. They will have to put together their best performance of the season if they want to down the Lady Tigers.
Skylan Says: Verona will give the Lady Tigers their best shot but Hollister wins… big.
7 Crane vs 10 Pierce City
This is another matchup where I haven’t seen much of either team. Crane isn’t that far removed from one of the greatest dynasties the area has ever seen. While the players are gone, the tradition lives forever. The Lady Pirates bring a few familiar names with Kailey Vaught, and they have some key wins over Greenwood and Diamond. Another result of note was a close 5-point loss to Hollister in the championship of the Crane tournament. Pierce City has been on quite the roll winning four of the last five games with the exception being one of the better small school teams in the area in 8-0 McAuley by 8. This should be a fantastic showdown.
Skylan Says: this will be a very competitive game. Pierce City Will come out fast and will lead at the half. Crane will rebound in the second half and secure the dub.
3 Sparta vs 14 Hurley
This one to be blunt wont be pretty. Hurley is coached by a true coaching family in Joey Little and his daughter Harper Boswell. I have known the Littles since I was about 8 years old, and I have never met a family who has basketball flowing through their veins more than the Littles. However, Sparta is good. They are good, good. Led by a pair of seniors and a solid group of juniors including the Roller twins Brooklyn and Ashlyn. They also have a pretty solid sophomore in Alivia Loveland.
Skylan Says: Sparta will be a force in this tournament, and it starts fast for the Lady Trojans.
6 Mack’s Creek vs 11 Fordland
This is another game where I haven’t seen either team play but this Mack’s Creek team is for real. They are senior heavy with five. However, the experience drops off after that with just one sophomore and a host of freshman. This Lady Pirates team however has been flawless. They sit at 7-0 including a win over a 5-win Otterville. They took first in the Hermitage tournament and then defeated Weaubleau and Humansville leading into this matchup with Fordland. The Lady Eagles record doesn’t stand out at 3-3 but with games against several pretty solid squads, they will have some fight in them as well.
Skylan Says: I picked the Lady Pirates of Crane a few games ago, this time I go with the Lady Pirates of Mack’s Creek.
1 Miller vs 9 Conway
Day two of the tournament opens the winner’s bracket with a great matchup full of experienced players. The big thing working against Miller is the fact they only play about six or seven girls. However, those six or seven girls are very good. They are a bit of a new look philosophy wise. The fast-paced Lady Cardinals are no more, and a suffocating style of play is in. Coach Sean Price has turned this Miller team into a defensive powerhouse only allowing 27 points per game. Conway hasn’t necessarily been an offensive powerhouse only averaging 45 points per game. This game will come down to if Conway and the Cromer sisters can find a way to penetrate the impenetrable zone defense of the Lady Cardinals.
Skylan Says: The Lady Bears will struggle and Claudia Hadlock’s lethal shooting will lead Miller to the semifinals.
4 Ash Grove vs 12 Greenfield
This promises to be a fantastic matchup. The grit and grind of this Greenfield team against the terrific trio of Ash Grove. This game will be fast paced as you can imagine. The guards of Greenfield will match up good with Gilliland and McClelland. The X-Factor will be Khloe Moad. Greenfield’s defense has been good holding teams to just under 37 points per game and Ash Grove has had troubles scoring at times so that aspect of the game could make things interesting.
Skylan Says: Khloe Moad has a huge day scoring 34 points in Ash Grove’s win.
2 Hollister vs 7 Crane
In a matchup of two familiar foes, this will be talent vs tradition. Hollister will come out ready and will look to continue their roll. Their defense has been good allowing less than 40 points a game and in an opportunity against a lesser team, you would like to see them assert their dominance again.
Skylan Says: Crane keeps it close early, but Hollister runs away with it late.
3 Sparta vs 6 Mack’s Creek
As impressive as Mack’s Creek has been so far from this year it has been against smaller schools. This will be a good opportunity for them to see a Class 3 squad. Sparta just got a huge win over Ash Grove that is sure to give them a nice wave of momentum coming into the tournament. Mack’s Creek has been good defensively up to this point however the Sparta attack is unlike anything they have seen so far.
Skylan Says: In a battle of Sparta’s offense and Mack’s Creek defense I am going to go with my gut and go with Sparta.
8 Walnut Grove vs 16 Fair Play
This is going to be a revenge game for the Lady Tigers. No one wants to be an 8 seed in their own tournament, and they really don’t want to lose in the first round in your own tournament. The Lady Tigers have too much pride and too much tradition to go down easy in their first two games.
Skylan Says: Walnut Grove gets back on track against a team that just frankly isn’t very good.
13 Niangua vs 5 Morrisville
Here we are back to the thinnest team in the tournament. Niangua with a whole six girls on the roster. Morrisville is a good team coming off of an upset loss to Greenfield. They are a complete team who doesn’t allow a ton of points, but Niangua is going to struggle with the depth of Morrisville.
Skylan Says: Morrisville takes it easy.
15 Verona vs 10 Pierce City
I haven’t seen either one of these teams play yet up to this point. So, I won’t take up a bunch of time talking about a matchup that I have no masterful insight into. However, while covering the Verona boy’s tournament, Yoselin Martinez had a fantastic tournament, and the Lady Wildcats had several players named to the all-tournament team.
Skylan Says: Coach Brandon Weiss is a good coach and an excellent coaching job from him gives Verona the victory.
14 Hurley vs 11 Fordland
There’s several teams in the consolation bracket that I admittedly haven’t seen yet (that is why I am thrilled to get a chance to see a lot of these smaller school teams and get familiar with them) these are two more that fall into that category. I do know that the Tigers will be very well coached and sometimes in small school basketball that is one of the most important factors in a game like this.
Skylan Says: I will double down with Hurley in another upset win.
1 Miller vs 4 Ash Grove
Now we are talking! A rematch of the Class three sectional game from a year ago. Two of the best trios in small school basketball. Claudia Hadlock, Kaylee Helton, and Payten Richardson vs Khloe Moad, Brittany Gilliland, and Emma McClelland. What a matchup in a 1-4 semifinal game. The key to this game will be Ash Grove’s ability to penetrate the zone defense of Miller with the size of Moad and spread out the attack with the shooting of McClelland and Gilliland.
Skylan Says: Miller jumps out big early thanks to their suffocating defense. However, Moad and Co. starts to pick up the pace of the game and doesn’t allow the zone defense to get set up and they Lady Pirates take the lead early in the 4th quarter. However, Miller, led by Hadlock’s ability to run this offense and Helton’s ability to score takes over late and leads the Lady Cardinals to victory.
2 Hollister vs 3 Sparta
Hollister will need to start fast in this games. Sparta with the talent that they have, will be able to strike the longer this game is close. Hollister is undoubtedly the better of the two teams, but they will have play quick and excel in transition to get that lead. Carly Simpson will hold the key to the game. If she can score, then Hollister will have a great shot at victory.
Skylan Says: Simpson does have a great game and Hollister survives a dogfight with Sparta.
8 Walnut Grove vs 5 Morrisville
Morrisville is a very good team with one very good player. Walnut Grove is a team that’s learning to win despite losing a lot of talent from last year. This is going to be a case of one player willing their team against a more complete team with lesser talent. It will come down to who defends better.
Skylan Says: I really want to go with Morrisville. I think they are really good. However, with the Lady Tigers having more depth and homecourt advantage, Walnut Grove takes it in the final two minutes.
15 Verona vs 14 Hurley
Here is a matchup no one expected to see.
Skylan Says: Without much thought, I am going with my gut’s whim. Hurley takes it.
5th Place Bracket
9 Conway vs 12 Greenfield
This will be one of the more intriguing matchups of the tournament outside of the two semifinal games. The Cromer’s vs Marlie Wright and the Torres’ sisters. The game will be decided by the stars in this game and who can come up big at the end.
Skylan Says: Graceson Cromer comes up big in the 4th quarter and Conway wins it.
7 Crane vs 6 Mack’s Creek
I am looking forward to this 6 vs 7 matchup. Not only because its two teams I haven’t seen yet, but it should just be a fantastic matchup. The Lady Pirates vs the Lady Pirates. Ill take the Lady Pirates in this one. In all reality the matchup will be a defensive bout and it will be a matter of who can get stops when it counts.
Skylan Says: After a tight back and forth battle. This will go down to who can get the crucial stop late in the fourth quarter and I have faith it will be the Lady Pirates……. of Crane that gets that stop.
8 Walnut Grove vs 14 Hurley
Walnut Grove wants to finish strong after a disappointing opening round loss to Conway. They have a great opportunity to do so against a Hurley team that has taken advantage of bad teams with great coaching from coach Little and Boswell. However Walnut Grove is a good team that could be under seeded in their own tournament.
Skylan Says: Walnut Grove takes the consolation game. Easy.
5th place game
9 Conway vs 7 Crane
The Cromer sisters came up big in the last round against Greenfield. They have an opportunity to finish the tournament with another big win against a good Crane team. The key to this game will be Graceson and Jamison’s ability to score the ball and Cranes ability to stop them.
Skylan Says: The Cromer’s are excellent scorers and will be able to get past the Lady Pirates. Conway wins a big one.
3rd place game
4 Ash Grove vs 3 Sparta
Ash Grove brings in a lot of firepower that we have talked about all article long. So does Sparta. This game comes down to slowing down Khloe Moad. Can Sparta do that? I’m not convinced that they can. However, if they can spread out the attack and shut down Moad, The Lady Trojans could have a shot.
Skylan Says: I think Sparta will do a great job of shutting down Moad, but it will be Gilliland that leads Ash Grove to victory.
1 Miller vs 2 Hollister
Here we have it. The two best teams in the tournament playing here in the championship game as it should be. Miller’s defense against Hollister’s offensive attack. What will win out. It is going to be a fantastic test for both of these squads as Miller takes on a good Class 4 squad and Hollister takes on one of the best teams in the state regardless of class. This will be a knock down drag out battle for one of the tallest trophies in SWMO.
Skylan Says: This will be shades of some of Miller’s low scoring games against Blue Eye and Mansfield. Miller will start fast as they usually do with suffocating defense and methodical halfcourt offense. Hollister will try to get the pace up and will succeed for the majority of the game and will take a 6–8-point lead late in the second quarter. Miller will cut that to just a four-point deficit at half 24-20. Hollister will go on another run early in the half but after a timeout by Miller, they will control the pace of the game once again and this time for the rest of the way. The halfcourt game heavily favors the Lady Cardinals and will lead Miller to the championship win!