Simply put, Strafford’s third quarter against St. Pius X was one of its worst eight-minute stretches of the season.
Huddling with his team on the bench, Strafford coach Steve Frank tried to put a positive spin on the situation.
“When they came in at the end of the third quarter I said to them, ‘To play a quarter like that and only score four points and still be up one? Let’s go out and win this thing,’” he said.
Strafford did just that and now finds itself one victory away from the first girls’ basketball state championship in school history.
Strafford overcame that four-point third quarter and made its free throws in the final two minutes to defeat St. Pius X (Kansas City) 49-38 in the MSHSAA Show-Me Showdown Class 3 semifinals Thursday afternoon at Mizzou Arena.
The Indians, who were 2-for-13 on 3-point attempts in the game, finished 15-for-17 at the free throw line, including an 11-for-13 mark in the fourth quarter.
“This time of year, it really comes down to free throws,” Frank said. “I said to the team at our shoot-around today when we shot a bunch of free throws, ‘It’s going to come down to free throws.’ And it ultimately did.”
Abby Oliver, who missed her first six 3-point attempts, swished her seventh attempt to put Strafford up 40-32 with under four minutes remaining.
“It was a good feeling because I was getting pretty frustrated on the first six (3-point attempts) that I took,” Oliver said. “(Coach Frank) just tells me to keep shooting and that’s what I did.”
After Natalie Denzer’s basket brought St. Pius X within 41-36 at the 2:27 mark, Strafford closed out the victory by making eight straight free throws.
Strafford led 27-20 at halftime, but was outscored 10-4 in the third quarter and held a slim one-point lead going into the final frame.
“I remember one quarter this season when we were kind of in that (slump),” Frank said. “We kind of went through a stretch, two or three games, where we came out and didn’t play (well) in the third quarter. We changed some things up in the practice.
“We made it a focus. I came in and made sure I got a little more gruff at halftime and we went out with a little more fire. We didn’t have a third quarter like that the rest of the season until tonight.”
Strafford freshman Hayley Frank finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and made 8 of her 10 free throw attempts. For much of the game, Hayley Frank also guarded St. Pius X junior and Missouri State commit Abby Hipp (6’2” forward), who finished with 13 points and 9 rebounds.
Strafford limited St. Pius X to 16-for-47 shooting from the field and just two free throw attempts. In a game where both teams shot about 35 percent from the field, Strafford committed only eight fouls.
The Indians were also opportunistic, scoring 18 points off of 11 St. Pius X turnovers.
“Defensively, I felt our girls really locked down,” Steve Frank said. “At halftime, we were up 21-10 on the boards. The scouting report on St. Pius X, we watched multiple games of them on film, you see that Hipp touches the ball 90 percent of the time when they’re on offense. So we knew she was key. For us, everyone knew their roles, knew where the help was at. We had help (defense) there consistently.”
In Saturday’s Class 3 title game (11 a.m., Mizzou Arena) Strafford meets a Saxony Lutheran team (28-2 overall) that defeated Southern Boone 54-40 on Thursday. Saxony Lutheran was 29-0 overall last season before losing to Park Hills Central in the quarterfinal round. Park Hills Central would go on to beat Buffalo in the semifinals on its way to a state championship.
“It was our whole goal and we always knew that we could do it from the beginning of the year,” Hayley Frank said of making the state finals. “All the way through, we always said that’s what we wanted to do. It’s such a good feeling knowing we worked for this and it’s paying off.”
Strafford 49, St. Pius X 38
Strafford 14 13 4 18 — 49
St. Pius X 11 9 10 8 —38
Strafford – Hayley Frank 20, Abby Oliver 11, Kaylee Larimer 8, Logan Eden 4, Kayley Frank 4, Zoey Mullings 2
St. Pius X – Abby Hipp 13, Antoinette Mussorici 8, Amanda Hayes 6, Allison Malott 4, Natalie Denzer 4, Sydney Routh 3