March 25, 2010

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

No fishing yet for me, and a look into the weather crystal ball foretold a snowy weekend, ruling out shed hunting for this fair weather fan of the hobby. So it was perfect timing for the annual trek to Columbia for the Missouri state high school basketball championships.

My wife and I have been making the journey for several years now, with the playoff weekend traditionally falling pretty close to her birthday, offering another reason for such a wonderful vacation. Yes, I know I am blessed to have a wife who is more than happy to be treated to two or three days of high school hoops as her reward for turning another year older.

The format changed in 2010, throwing us for a bit of a loop, since our ability to miss a day or two of work has dramatically declined without Wanda. The Missouri High School Activities Association (MHSHAA) moved the semifinals round of the Class 1, Class 2 and Class 3 playoffs to two separate venues, playing the 12 total boys and girls games at Hearnes or Mizzou arenas.

The move allowed all six third place games to be played on Friday with all six championship games on Saturday, while not starting any games before noon with the final tip off at around 8:30 p.m.

Before the move, games had started earlier and later, splitting the days in to two separate sessions and pretty much making it impossible for any but the most diehard fans to be capable of watching all of the action.

Iím pretty sure Iím in the finest sit on my rear and doing nothing, game watching shape of my life, but even I had trouble sitting through six consecutive games on both Friday and Saturday.

Iíd have to say the game of the weekend was the Class 2 boys championship game that came down to the final seconds between Bernie and Sturgeon.

Sturgeon captured the title with an 82-80 victory when Trey Chisholm sank two free throws with less than three seconds on the clock to cap off a career-high 35 points for the senior who simply refused to let his teamís dream of an undefeated season slip away.

Bernie still got off a good look at a deep three pointer with a perfectly drawn up final play that went the length of the court, but the shot bounced off the rim giving Sturgeon a 32-0 record and a state title.

Bernie advanced past a very talented Eskridge team 69-68 to get to the finals, a Thursday game we wished we could have made it to Columbia to see.

We watched Eskridge dismantle Clever in the Class 2 third place game that was very fun to watch. Eskridgeís Ben McClemore, a 6-4 junior guard, had to be the best college prospect we saw. He averaged 28 points a game during the season. Clever once again demonstrated just how far a team can go on guts and hustle, making its second straight final four appearance despite suiting up just eight players. They put on a passing clinic, using top-notch ball-movement to create scoring opportunities and make up for a lack of size and depth.

On the girls side, Harrisburg matched Sturgeonís feat of a perfect season, besting Thayer in the finals to be crowned state champions.

I was more interested in the third place game, watching Canton take on Miller and the stateís all-time leading scorer, boys or girls, in Hannah Wilkerson. The senior averaged 36.4 points a night during the regular season and did not disappoint the thousands of fans at Mizzou arena, surpassing the 40-point mark in both of her contests.

Wilkerson shot an unbelievable 312 free throws in 29 regular season games, and did even more damage at the free throw line in the third place game, where her inate ability to get to the charity stripe had Cantonís big three of Tori Niemann, Jessie Logsdon and Kristyn Caldwell in foul trouble throughout the contest.

Wilkerson and Miller prevailed 78-69 in an exciting game that I had to believe left the Canton faithful a bit frustrated with the officiating. Thatís all Iím going to say about it, because it is a terribly difficult job that I would never want to try and do.

Other interesting facts from the playoffs Ė Mt. Vernon sent both its boys and girls teams to the Class 3 Final Four. The boys finished fourth while the girls captured the state title with a roster that featured just one senior, meaning they likely will be back.

Class 1 girls champions Montrose didnít suit up a single senior on its eight player roster from a school with an enrollment of only 44 students. They would have to be favorites for a repeat as well.

I canít wait until next March.

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