Knights ground Eagles

AVON PARK - The Walker Memorial Academy Eagles girls basketball team suffered their first loss of the season to the Geneva Knights in the Class 2A-Region 3 quarterfinals on Thursday night.

For the second time in the last three years, Walker Memorial posted an undefeated season while earning a district championship.

For the second time, they suffered their first loss of the season in the first round of the state playoffs.

"We had a fantastic year," said Walker Memorial coach William Farmer. "Better than anyone expected because we graduated our all-time leading scorer and our number 2 guard last year. When you get to this level, you start to face teams that are bigger and quicker."

The Knights were not necessarily bigger than the Eagles, a little quicker and lot more aggressive as they imposed a full-court press on the Eagles from the beginning and did not let up until the final minutes of the game.

Walker Memorial had trouble adjusting to Geneva's style of defense, often having trouble getting the ball in bounds or across half court in the allotted time.

At the same time, the Knights used their parameter shooting to offset the Eagles zone defense and two taller girls on defense to build a lead of 16-8 at the end of the first quarter.

"That's our philosophy," said Geneva coach Jonathan Armstead. "We want to put pressure on them, we want to rotate and create fast breaks. We are pretty much a fast break team. Our pressure did not allow them to get into their sets and that's a good thing."

Walker Memorial adjusted on defense in the second quarter and was able to rotate defenders to the perimeter to hamper Geneva's shooters, but still had trouble dealing with the Knights full court pressure and fell behind at 25-15.

Despite keeping the Knights scoreless over the last four minutes of the half, the Eagles only managed to score three points in that time span as they went into the half trailing 25-18.

After Geneva scored on a free throw to start the second half, Walker Memorial broke through the full court press as India Washington scored two quick baskets for the Eagles to cut the Knights lead to 26-22.

Geneva responded by going on a 10-2 run over the next six minutes as they ramped up the intensity on defense. Walker Memorial scored the final four points of the third quarter to slice the Knights lead back to single digits, 36-28.

The Eagles started the final period by going on a 5-2 run that had them in striking distance, 38-33 with 5:45 left in the game.

Still scrappy, Walker Memorial ran out of gas as they were only able to score three more points for the remainder of the game in a 50-36 season ending loss.

Washington led Walker Memorial with a game-high 16 points and was the only Eagle player to reach double digits.

Grace Gunter led the Geneva Knights with 14 points. Abby Chew followed with 11 and Julia Bryant scored 10 in the win.

"It's obvious that we don't have a lot of depth on the bench," said Farmer. "I had to stick with the starting guards more than I would have liked to. I give them credit, they just kept coming and coming and coming and they took advantage of the fact that we did not have enough soldiers to win the battle.

"Overall a really nice game and they are a really good team. The turnovers really hurt us, some due to the pressure and towards the end from fatigue."

Armstead stated that his team needed to improve on starting the game with heart and took the Eagles for granted.

"They wanted it and fought hard for it," said Armstead. "We have to play with intensity from the start and keep that going throughout the game."

He continued to say that a positive was that they stuck to their game plan under the pressure, but they have to work on making shots.

"We missed a ton of layups tonight, we need to work on that and our defensive rotations," the Knights coach said. "I thought both teams did a great job and adjusted to the tempo of the game tonight."

With the season over for Walker Memorial, Farmer noted that they only lose one starter next year and that their best player is currently a freshman.

"We have three freshmen, a sophomore and junior coming back," Farmer said. "The nucleus of the team will be together for the next two or three years."