Mid-Lakes Conference teams Fair Grove (boys) and Strafford (girls) made program history in Carthage on Wednesday night, with each posting sectional victories for the first time.
Eagles take control in fourth quarter
When Fair Grove needed that game-changing basket or defensive stand it couldn’t seem to find in the first three quarters, the Eagles finally delivered when it mattered most.
Fair Grove overcame a five-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter, outscoring East Newton by 14 in the final frame to win 47-38.
“If you look at the last six minutes, I think all six of our guys that played made a big play, whether it was a shot, offensive rebound or getting a loose ball,” said Eagles coach Tim Brown. “Our first-shot defensive rebounding was outstanding down the stretch. Just couldn’t be more proud. This time of year, survive and advance.”
Fair Grove (26-4 overall) advances to the state quarterfinal round for the first time in program history. The Eagles face Mountain Grove (26-4) at 6:45 p.m. Saturday at Drury’s O’Reilly Family Event Center in Springfield.
With Fair Grove’s normal run-and-gun, up-tempo offense slowed by East Newton’s methodical, half-court scheme, the Eagles were staring at a 32-27 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter.
That’s when Fair Grove went on a season-saving run.
Treys by Evan Fullerton and Garrett Kesterson keyed a 10-2 spurt that put Fair Grove up 37-34 with under four minutes remaining, a lead the Eagles didn’t relinquish.
“I thought we defended really hard and contested shots well,” said Patriots coach Kyle Fields. “We got on the glass and were patient on offense. When a team shoots as well as (Fair Grove), it’s just a matter of time. You’re almost on pins and needles wondering when they’re going to hit their shot and get going. They did that in the fourth quarter, hit some shots – some deep 3s – and went on a run. It was late enough to where we couldn’t come back.”
Later, after Fair Grove had struggled with entry passes the entire game against East Newton’s 2-3 zone, sophomore Steven Huskey won a battle for a lob pass and scored while being fouled, putting the Eagles up 41-35 with 1:58 remaining.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Brown said. “We had some guys in the second half that didn’t play well in the first half, who we’re accustomed to playing well, step up and make plays.”
East Newton, which made just one field goal in the fourth quarter, couldn’t muster a late comeback.
“You get up two possessions in a game like that and it feels like 10 or 12,” Fields said. “We had a hard time scoring against their length tonight. They’re quite a bit longer than us. Even just making some passes, length is a factor. We just couldn’t buy a shot late tonight to maybe break their run and get ourselves going.”
Kyle Cavanaugh scored 17 to lead Fair Grove, while sophomore Dustin McDermott had a team-high 10 points for the Patriots (18-12 overall).
East Newton led 18-15 at halftime, thanks to an old-school, patient half-court offense. The Patriots repeatedly burned an aggressive Fair Grove defense with basket and backdoor cuts for layups.
“We knew that’s what East Newton’s game-plan was going to be,” Brown said. “East Newton, those kids are some of the toughest we’ve seen all year. How well they’ve played down the stretch, you look at what they’ve done the last three weeks of the season, they’ve figured out a system and a way to give people trouble. They really executed it well down this last stretch of the season.”
Fair Grove led 11-6 after the first quarter, but went over seven minutes without a field goal in the second. Brown said it’s a sign that his group’s learning to overcome such adversity.
“(The second quarter) was probably one of the worst offensive productions we’ve seen out of this group of players,” Brown said. “We’ve been through a lot of wars together with so many of them playing since they were young. To have your backs against the wall, it’s been two games in a row where we’ve come from behind. To be able to show that poise in the postseason and show that toughness says a lot about this group.”
Fair Grove 47, East Newton 38
Fair Grove 11 4 12 20 — 47
East Newton 6 12 14 6 — 38
Fair Grove – Kyle Cavanaugh 17, Garrett Kesterson 12, Evan Fullerton 9, Steven Huskey 9
East Newton – Dustin McDermott 10, Ethan Heilig 9, Josh Harris 6, Tyler Winsauer 5, Jake Patterson 4, Dalton Zimmerman 4
Indians overcome rare scoring drought
The Strafford girls survived an ugly first-half stretch to cruise to a 22-point win over El Dorado Springs.
Freshman Hayley Frank had 25 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists as Strafford pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 57-35 victory.
Strafford went nearly seven minutes without a point – and eight minutes without a field goal – in the first half, but still led by 13 at halftime.
“We didn’t finish like we’re capable of finishing,” said Strafford coach Steve Frank. “We missed some easy ones early. Typically, if we would’ve gotten that faster start early, it would have been a different first half. But I told them in the locker room that it kind of shows their character because we haven’t really had a scoring drought. We’ve been able to really put points on the board. We showed some character by hanging in there and keep working on defense.”
The victory sends Strafford to the state quarterfinal round for the first time in program history. The Indians (27-3 overall) face St. James (23-6 overall) at 5 p.m. Saturday at Drury’s O’Reilly Family Event Center in Springfield.
Against El Dorado Springs, Abby Oliver’s 3-pointer put Strafford up 10-2 at the 4:24 mark of the first quarter. That would be Strafford’s last points until Hayley Frank made a pair of free throws three minutes into the second quarter that pushed the Indians’ lead to 12-4.
Hayley Frank followed with a basket about a minute later to end Strafford’s field-goal drought of nearly eight minutes.
Thankfully for Strafford, its defense was there from the start. The Indians led 22-9 at halftime.
“(El Dorado Springs) typically shoot the ball a little better than they did, but we pride ourselves on getting out and guarding well,” Steve Frank said. “Our kids did a really good job of getting their hand over the ball and containing the dribble-drive, because the dribble-drive is what (El Dorado Springs) is all about.”
Offense picked up for both sides in the second half. Twins Hayley and Kayley Frank combined for three consecutive three-point plays for Strafford to begin the third quarter.
Leading 37-22 after three quarters, the Indians blew the game open in the fourth quarter. Strafford, with a trey from Kaylee Larimer and two treys from Abby Oliver, hit triples on three straight possessions to start the fourth quarter, pushing its lead to 46-24.
For Strafford, Oliver finished with 17 points and five assists. Kayley Frank had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
El Dorado Springs senior Kameron Schaaf, an SBU commit, scored 14 to lead the Bulldogs, who finish 18-11 overall.
Strafford 57, El Dorado Springs 35
Strafford 10 12 15 20 — 57
El Dorado Springs 4 5 13 13 — 35
Strafford – Hayley Frank 25, Abby Oliver 17, Kayley Frank 10, Kaylee Larimer 3, Logan Eden 2
El Dorado Springs – Kameron Schaaf 14, Kinli Simmons 9, Cameron McPeak 7, Anyssa Salazar 3, Hannah Kruckenberg 2