Defense, late free throws propel Strafford over Ash Grove

By Dana Harding

Ash Grove, MO – While Strafford’s roster may look completely different from last season’s 20-7 campaign, one axiom holds true for the Indians after a big 55-39 road win over Mid-Lakes rival Ash Grove.

Defense never graduates and, fortunately for Strafford, neither do free throws.

While the Indians notched only three baskets in the fourth quarter, the visitors were able to hold and stretch a lead thanks to a 12-15 performance from the line in the final frame.

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Strafford head coach Mike Wilson, with a lineup featuring five new starters this season, talked about things his teams should always be able to do against tough teams … shoot free throws and play defense.

“We made free throws the other night against Crane, and we made free throws tonight,” Wilson said. “We rebounded well, and we guarded well. Those things should never leave.”

An 11-3 first-quarter run helped Strafford race out to an early lead. Quick starts from the front line of Trayson Lawler and Drew Hall, along with solid man defense paced the Indians.

Strafford’s hot start waned a bit in the second and opened the door for an Ash Grove rally; however, the Pirates were never able to mount a consistent series of scores to cut into the deficit. Ash Grove headed into the locker room at half trailing 27-18.

In the third, Ash Grove found some success from long range, with both Tate Moreland and Matt Keller hitting 3-pointers to keep the Pirates within striking distance.

While the Pirates didn’t lose any ground, trailing by only nine at the end of the third, they were unable to counter a key Strafford adjustment in the fourth. Lawler and Kensen White, in particular, found repeated success putting the ball on the deck and attacking the basket down the stretch. When Ash Grove fouled, the duo converted free throws.

Lawler finished the game with a team-high 13 points, with 7 coming from the line. The 6’1” sophomore, playing in only his fourth game, spent the majority of the early season recovering from hernia surgery.

“We just had to work the ball inside and be smart about it,” Lawler said. “Free throws played a big part of that … going up strong and getting fouled. When I first came back from surgery, it was kind of just a blur. I’m just trying to get my feet back under me, relax and hit free throws.”

Wilson had high praise for his team’s ability to adjust late and close out the game at the free throw line.

“We quit settling for jump shots,” Wilson said. “We got free throws because we attacked the basket. We got baskets because they were at the rim. Everybody says that 3-point line has changed the game of basketball. Everyone wants to shoot it, but the game’s still won in the paint.”

Lawler was joined in double figures by White’s 12 points and 11 from Hall and Tyler Winburn.

Much like Strafford, Ash Grove head coach Josh Reece is also trying to find a balance of chemistry and effectiveness with a relatively new group.

“We’re obviously not where we want to be,” Reece said. “We had a real tough game Tuesday night, didn’t play well as a team and had some issues here and there. We played much better tonight, even though we lost. We played as a team, played together and got going.”

Moreland led all scorers in the contest with 14 points, including a trio of 3-pointers.

After a weekend off, both teams prepare for tournament play next week. Strafford (5-8) opens play in the Conway Tournament on Monday, Jan. 23, against Buffalo, while Ash Grove (6-10) heads to the Crane Tournament on Tuesday, Jan. 24, for an opening-round clash with Marionville.

Varsity final: Strafford – 55, Ash Grove – 39

Strafford 14 13 10 18 — 55

Ash Grove 10 8 10 11 — 39

Strafford scoring: Trayson Lawler – 13, Kensen White – 12, Tyler Winburn – 11, Drew Hall – 11, Wyatt Comstock – 5, Riley Overbeck – 3

Ash Grove scoring: Tate Moreland – 14, Spencer Eagleburger – 8, Braden Trammell – 7, Garrett Simmerman – 5, Matt Keller – 3, Max Cashio – 2

JV final: Strafford – 65, Ash Grove – 32

(Dillon Hester – 15 points)

Frosh final: Strafford – 67, Ash Grove – 14

(Caleb Swims – 19 points)