NEOSHO, Mo. — Seventeen straight wins. 12-0 away from home. Twenty-one of their 24 wins are by double figures. Ranked for the first time in three years. And to cap all of it off, unbeaten in Region XVI play for the first time under coach Jeff Walk.
The No. 22 Lady Raiders are in the midst of a season to remember, and they wrapped up the regular season portion of their schedule with a 92-72 win at Crowder, completing the aforementioned accolades in the process.
"Pretty special group of kids, you know. First one for me here," Walk said. "And us and Moberly last year, then you've got to back to I think like '08 before there's another undefeated region team. It just shows a testament to the kids who come in everyday and work hard, do what they've got to do every single day."
Three Rivers (24-3, 10-0 Region XVI) battled with Crowder (12-18, 3-7 Region XVI) in a grind-it-out style of game. The Lady Raiders slowly began to pull away late in the first half, taking a 44-34 lead into the locker room.
"It was pretty physical," Walk said. "It was a wrestling match early. We tried to wrestle with them, and next thing you know we call a timeout or two and said, let's just play the game and play basketball."
In the third quarter, that philosophy worked to near perfection. Three Rivers dominated as it has often done throughout the year, forcing turnovers and wearing down Crowder to the tune of a 32-19 advantage in the frame.
The scoring balance is something few teams can match or even contain.
Despite still missing J'Kayla Fowler, who is out with an ankle injury, and An'Nyah Pettus, who hurt her knee a week ago in a win against Mineral Area, Three Rivers finished with seven players in double figures. It's an impressive number even for a team that has five players with double-figure scoring averages.
Jordan Little led the way with 17 points on five made shots. Hailee Erickson scored 15. Casey Douglas and Katelyn South each scored 13. Hannah Thurmon added 12. Deanay Watson and Kim Shaw had 11 apiece.
Balance like that is a matchup nightmare for opponents, and no one has figured out how to steal a win against the Lady Raiders throughout a 17-game winning streak that has spanned nearly three months.
Even with a big winning streak and a top-25 ranking, Three Rivers continues to do the little things right, too, starting on the defensive end.
"I think Kim Shaw had a great ball game, a great defensive ball game," Walk said. "She ain't going to show in the box scores. She had a couple of big steals in the second half, forced some turnovers and got some rebounds. Everybody else had a great game, but those things just don't show up."
For the 12th time this year, Three Rivers has gone into an opponent's gym and walked away with a win, having yet to lose away from home this season.
"(They're) able to go into someone else's home court and not let it affect your play," Walk said. "You just go in, take care of business, make shots and play defense and don't let the atmosphere affect you."
From this point on, the atmosphere only gets more intense for the Lady Raiders. They've secured the top seed in the Region XVI Tournament, and they'll play their first game in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic