Last week’s Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Classic went off pretty much without a hitch. That is, until the all-tournament team was announced.

The selection committee made a good choice for MVP in Tulsa Union point guard Destinee Frierson, who took over late in the Lady Redskins’ 60-51 victory over Preston in the championship game and did an amazing defensive job on Cache star Taylor Thompson (the 2006 MVP) in Friday's semifinals.

Other all-tournament picks, like Thompson, Union’s Lindsay Palmer, Cassie Clarke of Verdigris (the tournament’s leading scorer), Kiowa point guard Katy Clift and Coalgate center Mallory Walker (who, like Thompson, made the squad for the second straight year) were pretty much no-brainers.

But one player I thought was a mortal lock for the all-tournament squad — as well as a candidate for Mid-America MVP — was mysteriously nowhere to be found when the best of the best from this year’s tournament were honored.

Preston’s Maylisa Johnson, a physical 5-9 point guard her coach, Mickey Duncan, called his team’s most valuable player before the Mid-America began, was snubbed by the selection committee, despite leading the Lady Pirates in scoring (with 40 points), assists (19) and rebounds (19). 

Two other Preston players, guards Sierra Cornwell and Savannah Hamilton, did made the all-tournament team, despite erratic performances during the week. Cornwell led all players in steals over the three days and scored 16 points in Preston’s demolition of Verdigris in the semifinals, but she had just four points when she fouled in the fourth quarter Saturday and also didn’t show much offense in Thursday’s win over Kiowa.

Hamilton, meanwhile, was invisible in Preston’s first two games, scoring just 10 total points and hitting only one 3-pointer (her specialty). She came out of her shell with 17 points in Saturday’s loss but was nowhere near the impact player Johnson was in all three games.

Johnson was relentless at both ends of the floor in Preston’s three tournament contests, and her biggest mistake might have been scoring just four points at halftime of the championship game, when the ballots were due to be turned in for counting. Cornwell had no points at the time, though, and still made the all-tournament squad, and Johnson went on to score 12 second-half points to finish in double figures for the third straight night.

In addition to her solid statistical week, Johnson was the poster child for Preston’s unique style. The Lady Pirates weren’t pretty to watch; in fact, they play basketball like a pack of wild dogs chasing a pork chop. They just never quit coming at their opponents until they were torn to shreds.

Johnson, who is being courted by several Division I programs, played full-out for 32 minutes of every one of Preston’s three Mid-America games, and she impressed me so much that when the Lady Pirates made their final run of the game to tie the score in the fourth quarter, I told Mid-America president Allen Butler that if Preston won, I wanted to vote for Johnson instead of Frierson for MVP. 

Union went on to win and the issue never came up, but in leaving Johnson off the all-tournament squad, the committee ignored a girl I considered one of the best players I’ve seen in my four years of covering the Mid-America. 

Other than Johnson’s omission from the all-tournament squad, though, I had very few issues with the way things went last week. The tournament went off without a hitch, the food in the hospitality room was incredible, and stats guru Sam Caton gave me and the other media attending the tournament every scrap of information we needed to do our jobs without having to scramble.

Union — the third straight Class 6A team to win the Mid-America — was the tournament’s best team from start to finish, but Preston made a case for the little guy with a dynamic performance. The Lady Pirates — the first team every from their school to play a team from a 6A school — were tied with the Lady Redskins with less than two minutes to play before Frierson hit the first two of nine free throws Union recorded over the final 89 minutes to seal the win.

Duncan, Union’s Jim Stacy and the other coaches who attended the 31st Mid-America were all classy and cooperative, and their teams exhibited the kind of competitive spirit and sportsmanship that has become the norm at Oklahoma’s top girls basketball tournament.

This year’s event featured scoring, as usual, but the crowds Friday and Saturday also witnessed two of the best individual defensive efforts in the Mid-America’s long and glorious history. After Frierson held Thompson (who had averaged 29 points in her first four Mid-America contests dating back to last season) to a quiet 14 points Friday, Thompson came back and made Cassie Clarke — a scoring machine with 55 points through the first two rounds — pay for Frierson’s sins. A 5-5 dynamo known mostly for her scoring, Thompson limited Clarke to eight points in 30 minutes before fouling out in the fourth quarter, and Clarke (who scored another 11 points in the final 2:30 after Thompson fouled out to finish with 19) was just 1-for-5 from the field and had two points and five turnovers at halftime.

Another big ‘attagirl’ goes out to Coalgate’s Walker, who played perhaps the two best games of her outstanding varsity career Thursday and Friday. She scored 22 of her team’s 33 points in the Lady Wildcats’ first-round loss to Union, then she came back with 21 in Friday’s come-from-behind miracle win over Class A No. 2 Howe.

In addition to scoring, Walker was physical, she hustled after every rebound and loose ball, and she provided some of the leadership for Jim Jenson’s club that has been missing this season after the graduation of All-State guard Teran Mixon.

Although Kiowa double-teamed Walker and held her to just four shots and six points in Saturday’s consolation final, the 6-2 Coalgate center and her teammates had to come out of the Mid-America a better team than they were when the week began.

Top to bottom, this year’s tournament field was the best in at least three years, and Butler and his board are already assembling next year’s octet — which figures to include a few holdovers from 2007. 

Stacy said after Saturday’s title game that Union (which gets an automatic invitation as tournament champion) will return; Cache — second in 2006 and third this year despite a brutal draw — is still young, and the Lady Bulldogs have one of the state’s top coaches in Kenny White; Howe is loaded with junior talent, including the exciting 1-2 punch of Katie BenAmor and Lindsay McCown; and Preston returns four of its top six players next year, including Johnson and Cornwell.

Among local teams, Konawa (No. 2 in Class 2A) appears to be the top candidate for a bid in 2008, and by the time the state tournaments roll around in March, the tournament should have another outstanding list of invitees.

Good job, guys. I'm already looking forward to 2008.

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