Climax Springs girls basketball unable to overcome efficiency of Walnut Grove in sectionals

Michael Losch
Lake Sun Leader
Climax Springs’ Autumn Wallace looks to get past a Walnut Grove defender and go up for a shot in a sectional game on March 3 in Climax Springs. Wallace led the team with 10 points in her final game as a Cougar.

It would be a tough test for just about any program- a team comprising of just of six players against a two-time defending state champion with a deeper bench. 

That was the challenge ahead of Climax Springs Wednesday night as it hosted Walnut Grove in the sectional “Sweet 16” round of the Class 1 state playoffs. On the court, the visiting Tigers displayed how they earned those two titles and will be looking for a third after a 67-25 win over the Cougars. 

“I knew we were going to have our hands full and they are just so talented and so well-coached. They keep running player after player at you and that is why they are the two-time defending state champ is because they have a great program and Rory (Henry) does a great job with them,” Climax Springs coach Ron Rhodes said of a team that also ended the run for the Cougars in a district title game last season. 

“Can’t hang your head about the last two years,” Rhodes continued. “It is not too bad when you get beat by that caliber of ball club.” 

Walnut Grove started the game on a 8-0 run, but the Cougars were not discouraged right from the start. Climax Springs actually responded with a 9-0 run of its own to take a 9-8 lead in the first quarter, but the visitors quickly regained control to take an 18-9 lead by the end of the first quarter. 

Unfortunately for Climax Springs, Walnut Grove only built upon its momentum and kept its foot on the proverbial pedal- using a full-court man-to-man defense to wear down the Cougars while efficiently knocking down shots, many of them 3-pointers. Climax Springs was held scoreless for seven minutes and what was once a 9-8 lead for the home side turned into a 18-0 run for the visitors before Climax Springs could respond. By halftime, Walnut Grove held a comfortable 40-12 lead. 

“They went on a run there and they are going to do that. They are better than us and they proved it tonight,” Rhodes said of the defending state champions. “I just hope our girls understand that it is nothing to hang their heads about. They’ve had three great years and I’ve had three great years coaching them.” 

After 42 years on the sidelines, Rhodes is looking to retire from coaching and enjoy some vacation time and the opportunity to do some traveling with his wife. He said it was rewarding to wrap up his coaching career at Climax Springs, though.

“It was very rewarding because we don’t have a real large student body. Just having six kids that would put up with the yelling, screaming, running and conditioning- things like that- only six of them could put up with that,” the coach noted. “They work hard, these six girls really work hard and I’m super proud of them.” 

Climax Springs senior Autumn Wallace led the way with 10 points in her final game as a Cougar. Fellow senior Abi Wolfe finished with seven points in her final game, junior Jayden Butterfield added five and freshman Ava Wolfe hit a 3-pointer. 

Rhodes took some time to commend the two seniors and what they have meant for the program. 

“Those two are just amazing kids,” he said. “Abi is one of the best leaders on and off the court I’ve ever coached. She is just so thoughtful of everyone else and will take a backseat. She just always thinks of the team first and I don’t think people realize how much she is going to be missed next year. Everyone knows Autumn is going to be missed because of her rebounding, athletic ability and scoring and I think some are forgetting how important Abi is to us. 

“Autumn has been our leading scorer about every ballgame and leading rebounder,” the coach continued. “She is going to be super hard to replace and I love those two seniors.” 

The journey comes to an end for the Cougars at 17-7 this season and the program’s first district championship in 16 years. As for those who will return, Rhodes said he wishes them the best of luck in the future and he wants the kids to stick with it and continue to improve. Playing a defending state champion two years in a row can be beneficial in the experience that is gained. 

“It is a great experience and I just told them in the locker room- they need to play every sport they can play,” Rhodes said. “They need to play all the sports, especially at a school our size. We need to share our athletes and I just hope they get out and continue to compete in every sport here.” 

Michael Losch is the Sports Editor at the Lake Sun. He can be reached at mlosch@lakesunonline.com or 573-346-2132