Five high school basketball teams from southwest Missouri have shots to bring home state championships with wins on Saturday.
The Class 1, 2 and 3 boys and girls state championship games take place at Mizzou Arena. Strafford enters the Class 3 girls title game with a chance to go undefeated on the season and win a second consecutive championship.
Strafford has just one senior on its roster, College of the Ozarks signee Abby Oliver. Strafford’s point guard scores an average of 19.8 points per game. Sophomore Hayley Frank, a 6-foot-1 forward, scores an average of 22.4 points per game.
Strafford will take on an equally youth-driven Whitfield in the state championship game. Whitfield is led by sophomore Aijha Blackwell and her 20.5 points per game. Strafford coach Steve Frank said his plan for the final begins with defense.
“They’ve got three really solid kids that we’re going to have to do a good job with,” Frank said of Whitfield. “We don’t worry about the offense, we just worry about how we’re going to stop somebody defensively and that turns into our offense.”
Skyline has been to the Class 2 final four five consecutive times, but hasn’t won a girls basketball state championship since 2004. Senior McKinsey Mountain was flying high on emotion after the Tigers dismantled Scotland County 46-22 in the semifinals Thursday to advance to the championship game.
“It’s a really, really, really good feeling and it’s something that we’ve been working for all year, ever since November, and something we really want. We’re going to work as hard as we can to get it,” Mountain said.
Scotland County senior point guard Abi Feeney felt smothered by all-state guard Kaylee DaMitz and the Skyline defense.
“I’ve never seen or played against anything like that. I have a huge respect for that team and the way their defense works,” Feeney said. “The hardest thing I have to say I’ve ever done in my life is try to bring the ball up against that press.”
Walnut Grove has the chance to bring a pair of Class 1 state championships home to Greene County. The girls team (28-4) will meet Mercer (30-1) in Saturday’s state championship game at 12:50 p.m.
Walnut Grove has reached the semifinals six consecutive times and won three consecutive state championships in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The Tigers finished in third place in last year’s Class 1 playoff tournament.
The Walnut Grove boys (29-3) reached the state championship game last year but came up short against undefeated Stanberry. The Tigers hope for better when they take on Advance (26-6).
Crane’s boys have found their stride and look to finish the season with a win in the Class 2 state championship. The Pirates (20-10) will take on Oran (22-8) for the state title.
“I just have this feeling that we’re going to come in focused and ready to go,” Crane coach Craig Campbell said.
Crane puts a 10-game winning streak on the line against an Oran Eagles squad that survived Sacred Heart 64-59 with late free throws in the semifinals. Campbell said he talked to Hartville coach Brett Reed about Oran after Oran edged the 2016 state champions 55-52 in the quarterfinals.
“They’re a pretty good shooting team, they’re all about the same size. If they get hot, they get hot,” Campbell said.
Missouri State High School Activities Association basketball state championships
Saturday, March 11
All games at Mizzou Arena, Columbia
11 a.m. Class 1 boys: Advance (26-6) vs. Walnut Grove (29-3)
12:50 p.m. Class 1 girls: Mercer (30-1) vs. Walnut Grove (28-4)
2:40 p.m. Class 3 boys: Whitfield (22-9) vs. Transportation and Law (20-10)
4:30 p.m. Class 3 girls: Whitfield (25-7) vs. Strafford (32-0)
6:20 p.m. Class 2 boys: Oran (22-8) vs. Crane (20-10)
8:10 p.m. Class 2 girls: Adrian (30-1) vs. Skyline (30-2)