Mar. 7—WALNUT GROVE, Mo. — Two-time defending state champion Walnut Grove grabbed control in the second quarter and defeated McAuley Catholic 66-44 on Saturday afternoon in a Class 1 girls basketball quarterfinal in the Tigers' gymnasium.
Walnut Grove (23-4) has reached the state semifinals for the ninth time in the last 10 years — missing out in 2018.
The Tigers, who have five state titles among their most recent eight trips, play Jefferson-Conception (29-0) in a semifinal game at 8 p.m. Friday at JQH Arena in Springfield. It's a rematch of last year's state championship game, won by Walnut Grove 52-41.
McAuley (20-9) got off to a quick start and owned a 17-10 lead after the first quarter.
"We started out strong," Warriors coach Mike Howard said. "The message going into the game was obviously we are the underdogs, have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If we come out and pllay with energy and play aggressive and physical and show them we came here to play, they would not be expecting that."
And that's exactly what happened.
"Their coach after the game said you have a hell of a ball club," Howard said. "You have the scrappiest team we've played against this year. You came out and punched us in the mouth in the first quarter, and we didn't expect that.
"The first quarter, I was super proud of them."
Then the Warriors had some bad luck as senior guard Gliza Damaso went down with a knee injury in the first minute of the second quarter and didn't return.
"That was demoralizing," Howard said. "She plays such a vital role in our program offensively and defensively. She creates shots for other people off her drives to the basket and kicking it out. and she's a quick defender who can stay with quick guards.
"I put young kids in to replace her, and girls moved into positions they are not used to."
And that's when the Tigers took over, scoring the first 19 points of the second quarter en route to building leads of 32-21 at halftime and 54-32 after three quarters.
Walnut Grove's top three scorers this season all reached double figures as Faith Gilkey tallied 25 points, Makayla McVay 19 and Lauren Johnson. They combined for seven 3-pointers, including three apiece by McVay and Johnson.
The 1-2 punch of Kennedy DeRuy and Kayleigh Teeter scored 18 and 14 points, respectively, for the Warriors, whose season ends with the third quarterfinal appearance in school and the first since 2002.
"I'm so proud of them," Howard said. "From where they came from over the summer ... we played in a competitive league in Webb City and we were not very good. We've grown so since to become one of the final eight teams in the state and compete with arguably the toughest team in the state for a long time.
"That says a lot about their character. I'm so proud to be a part of it and so proud to call them my players."