Logan Eden entered the postgame press conference with a little bit of a headache, but she’ll take it. After all, it’s much better than the alternative.
Eden knows exactly what losing a state championship game feels like and it’s better to have a slightly broken head than a completely broken heart.
The heartache caused by losing a state championship game is known not only by Eden, classmate Kaylee Larimer and both coaches, Steve Frank and Jesse Alsup.
But, that feeling is now a thing of the past…
On Saturday Strafford won its first state championship in school and program history, beating Saxony Lutheran 50-46 in the MSHSAA Class 3 State Championship.
“It’s a much better feeling than volleyball, except the dog pile kind of hurt my head,” Eden. “It’s awesome to be able to do this for Coach Frank and make history for our school. I’m glad that I got to do it with all of my teammates; I love them to death.”
For a team that had scored at least 70 points in 15 games this season, Strafford found itself in a dog fight late.
The Lady Indians led 40-28 with seven minutes remaining, but a 13-4 run over the next six minutes by Saxony made it just a one possession game, 44-41, with 58 seconds to play. Strafford answered by going 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the final 73 seconds.
Strafford entered the Final Four shooting 78.5% as a team, the highest of any team in Columbia this weekend. The Lady Indians shot 12-for-13 in Saturday’s championship.
“That’s been our forte all year,” said Coach Frank. “We’ve consistently shot free throws well all year and we have several kids that shoot 80% or higher. In close games and down the stretch that’s a characteristic of a good team; you’ve got to be able to make free throws.”
The most clutch free throws came in the game’s final seconds when freshman Hayley Frank stepped to the line with 4.2 on the clock and Strafford clinging to a 48-46 lead.
One free throw would nearly guarantee overtime, two would give Strafford, and her dad, it’s first state championship.
Frank calmly sank both, finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds.
“Every time I’ve stepped to the free throw line I’ve thought about this,” said Hayley Frank. “I’ve put myself in this situation so many times so I didn’t feel like there was a lot of pressure on it because that’s what I’ve prepared for.
This means everything; it is what we’ve worked for. He’s always talked about it being his biggest goal and he’s done so much for me that I couldn’t think of anything better than doing this for him and doing it together makes it that much more special.”
Strafford looked like a team that has just two seniors on its roster early, trailing 7-4 midway through the first quarter, but the Lady Indians responded with a 17-2 run and never trailed again.
The biggest key in that run was sixth man Zoey Mullings, who came off the bench with a pair of 3s in the first quarter. The sophomore finished with a team-high 13 points and five rebounds in just 18 minutes, shooting 4-for-5 from the field.
Hayley Frank (20 PPG) and Abby Oliver (19 PPG) came in as two of the highest scorers in all of Class 3, but Coach Frank has long said that if the Indians were to make a run it would require others stepping up.
“We’ve said all along that it was going to come down to our 3-4-5-6 players,” said Frank. “Abby and Hayley have done a tremendous job for us this year, but their name is at the top of every board; people are going to want to shut them down. For us it was going to come down to 3-4-5-6 and that’s all we’ve talked about for the last month is that they have to step up. When that happens you’re going to be successful and that’s what happened today.”
Frank knows first-hand just how nerve-racking the Final Four stage can be and his team showed very few nerves throughout the course of the weekend.
He doesn’t have many seniors, but the two he had were really good.
“Logan and Kaylee have been such an asset and for them to play in the Final Four in volleyball too was huge for us coming down here; they’ve been through it and they were able to convey that to the kids,” said Coach Frank. “My trips to the state championship game it was dead silent on the bus and it was tight and these guys just weren’t tight at all coming into this.”
With two freshmen, a sophomore and a junior scoring 38 of Strafford’s 50 points, the question has to be asked if this is the start of the Ozarks next great dynasty?
We’ve seen Walnut Grove and Crane dominate their classes in recent years and challenging the great run that Marshfield put together in the late 80s and early 90s.
While Frank wouldn’t quite go that far, he did acknowledge that this group has a chance to be special.
“One of the best characteristics of our team is that we don’t really project into the future and we try to just take it one game at a time,” said Frank. “This is when our season begins. I always stress to our kids that this is when you get better, not during the season but the offseason. These young ones have really grown and will become great leaders next year.
We’ve got some really good young kids coming, including an eighth grade. There’s some talent there, but its raw so we’ve got to fine tune that. Hopefully when the season starts we’ll have a game plan and be ready to go.”
Strafford 50, Saxony Lutheran 46
Saxony Lutheran 7-11-8-20 – 46
Strafford 14-7-14-15 – 50
Saxony Lutheran (29-3) – B. Mueller 20, Wieser 15, Mirly 4, Daniel 2, McWilliams 2, Brune 2, Collier 1.
Strafford (30-3) – Mullings 13, H. Frank 12, Oliver 9, Larimer 8, Eden 4, K. Frank 4.