Karsyn Hejna provided the toughness.
Lexi Harman led the defense.
And Heather Harman stepped up when it counted.
The Walnut Grove High School girls basketball team delivered in dramatic fashion late Saturday night, winning the Class 1 state basketball championship 47-46 against Chamois at Mizzou Arena.
Just like in last season’s loss to Eminence, the opponent and plodding, half-court nature of the state championship game prevented the Lady Tigers from playing at their usual tempo.
Then, there was Chamois 5-foot-11 senior post Miranda Brandt, who scored many of her 31 points on pull-up jumpers in the lane.
But when Brandt grabbed offensive rebounds or got positioned near the basket, the Walnut Grove post players bothered the SIU-Edwardsville signee enough to cause her to miss a few.
Those few turned out to be the difference.
Much of the responsibility of containing Brandt fell to Hejna and sophomore Audree Crain. Both showed they would not be pushed around by the powerful Brandt, drawing first-half charges on crushing hits that took guts to receive.
Crain was shaken up. For Hejna, it was worse. She landed awkwardly on her left hand, injuring her wrist. She left the game for a couple minutes, but returned to play the rest of the game.
After telling Heather Harman to take something off passes to her because of difficulty catching the ball, Hejna scored six big points, and played strong defense under the basket.
Coach Rory Henry said Hejna’s wrist needed to be broken for her to ask out of the game. Heck, it might even be broken. Henry said Sunday the extent of the injury won’t be known until swelling goes down.
Henry said Hejna brought an increased level of tenacity to the program since moving from Aurora last year. She helped turn a talented team into a tough team. It was on full display Saturday night.
So was Lexi Harman’s dominant, game-changing defense.
After taking Chadwick sharpshooter Maddie Hursh completely out of Thursday’s semifinal, Harman bothered Chamois ball-handlers just enough throughout the final to keep Walnut Grove around despite its offensive struggles.
In all, Harman had 10 steals, which is one thing against an average Class 1 team. Against Chamois, on that stage, it was pretty impressive.
On defense, Harman deflected nearly every crossover from her opponent, and resulted in a few extra possessions. Those were crucial as the team shot just 35 percent from the field.
Then, there was junior all-state point guard Heather Harman.
Harman was at her best Thursday against Chadwick, moving around the floor at will and scoring in many different ways early on with the game still in doubt.
On Saturday, things didn’t come as easy.
She missed seven of her first 10 3-pointers, settling too often for long looks at the basket. Then, she missed on a few drives that usually go down for her, playing three-and-a-half quarters of pretty good offensive basketball. However, she was not playing the great game her team needed for the win.
But just as both teams tightened up, missing a combined 10 shots to open the fourth, Harman began delivering.
The guard’s two 3-pointers provided more than half her team’s scoring in the fourth.
But when she was fouled with 1.1 seconds to play and the score tied, Harman admitted later she questioned whether she could knock one of the two shots down.
“I’m a pretty confident free throw shooter, but when I stepped up there and looked at the clock and the score, I was like, ‘Oh God,'” she said with a spent, hoarse voice in the post-game press conference. “I knew it was like last year, and I knew it was the only opportunity that we had left.
“I told myself it was just a free throw. We have to shoot 50 before we go home every single day, so I told myself it’s nothing new: It’s just a free throw.
“And I knocked it down.”
Contact Matt Schoch at (417) 836-1191 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattSchochNL.