The Verona Lady Wildcats rolled to a 58-47 win over Walnut Grove to claim the Class 1 District 6 girls basketball championship at Aurora on Friday night. Jessica Smith scored 17 points, and Verona had four girls in double figures in the victory.
|Verona appeared in the championship game for the second straight year, after dropping a 30-21 decision to eventual state champs Exeter in 2009. The Lady Wildcats' win over Walnut Grove marked the third consecutive year that an Ozark 7 conference team has won the district title.|
|After Haley Harman muscled for the game's first points and a 2-0 lead for the Lady Tigers, Verona tied and then led on Smith's steal and layup, and crowd-stirring trey. Walnut Grove tied the game at 5-5, but Verona pulled away to a 17-10 lead at quarter's end as Jenna Chadd beat the buzzer with her driving layup off the glass.|
|Beth Bigham drained a long shot from the right wing to open the second quarter, and Verona doubled up the Lady Tigers, 20-10, with exactly 7:00 left before halftime.|
|Walnut Grove fought back with an 8-2 run, cutting the Verona lead all the way down to 22-18. Chadd hit one of two free throw opportunities to end the run, but Verona struggled while scoring only 6 in the second quarter. Walnut Grove pulled within 23-21 at intermission.|
|Both teams were in foul trouble at halftime. Verona accumulated 10 team fouls, and Walnut Grove earned eight in a rough first half of play.|
|In the third quarter, Verona returned to form. Ryan Yates has an offensive style not seen often around the state. The precise rotation of Verona closely resembles the "spinner series" offense of the Lamar Tigers football team, complete with reads and options. If a defender closes one option, there's an automatic read and pass. If the defense fails to react, the scoreboard lights up with a Verona layup. Double down, and you get to watch the treys flying in like scud missiles. Easy to describe, harder to teach and very difficult to defend.|
|In the third quarter, Verona operated very efficiently and extended the lead back to 38-30 at the final break. Tristan Carrasquillo came alive with a trey from the top of the key, and a driving layup. Bigham rebounded and scored with 1:13 on the clock to give Verona the 8-point cushion.|
|Walnut Grove imploded in the fourth quarter. Verona streaked to a 12-point advantage, but the Lady Tigers scrapped back to trail by just 44-38 with 5:42 to play. Carrasquillo scored on a brilliant alley-oop pass on the sideline inbounds play, and Verona's lead was back to 8 at 46-38.|
|Walnut Grove coach Rory Henry drew a technical foul when the officials agreed with the misquoted Shakespeare line, "me thinks he doth protest too much." Smith sank one of the two freebies, and Verona owned possession of the ball as well with only 4:28 to play.|
|Verona called a timeout with 2:06 to play, protecting a 50-39 lead. Yates directed the semi-stall, and even though Verona only shot 6 for 12 from the line in the final 1:30, it was enough to secure the 58-47 win and a district title. Light-scoring center Jori Dodson poured in back-to-back layups in the final two minutes as Verona repelled Walnut Grove's desperation game.|
|"The girls wanted a district championship. They fought for it and got it," said Coach Ryan Yates. "The girls played a good game against a good team. We look forward to opportunity to play on Tuesday."|
|The Lady Wildcats will play against Humansville on Tuesday, March 9 at 6 p.m. in a Class 1 sectional game at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar.|
|Verona scorers: Jessica Smith 17; Beth Bigham 12; Jenna Chadd 12; Tristan Carrasquillo 11; and Jori Dodson 6.|
Smith was the team leader in rebounds and assists with seven each. Chadd was credited with five steals.
|Walnut Grove scorers: Hannah Harman 18; Jessica Misner 11; Haley Harman 10; Karlie Koenemann 4; Cheyenne Harman 2; and Kaylea Adams 2.|