By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Willard, Mo. — The third act of Strafford’s Class 3 rampage continued Wednesday night in the state sectional round.
The Lady Indians utilized a dominant 23-2 run in the second quarter to pull away from Mt. Vernon in the en route to a 69-43 victory.
While the final score was favorable for the Lady Indians, the first quarter featured a critical gut check.
At the two-minute mark with Strafford nursing a one-point lead, Junior Hayley Frank was whistled for her second foul and headed to the bench.
Mt. Vernon, the District 12 champions, came out determined to match Strafford basket for basket. With balanced scoring across the board from five different players in the first quarter, the Lady Mountaineers were able to stay within a single possession throughout the first period.
Frank remained on the Strafford bench for just over a minute, as head coach Steve Frank opted to roll the dice and put the 2017 Class 3 Player of the Year back into the game.
The gamble worked, as the 6-foot-2 Missouri commit buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Lady Indians a 16-12 lead.
“Good players are able to come in and play in those situations,” Coach Frank said. “I wasn’t afraid to put Hayley in that situation. I knew that she would be smart about what she did, and we needed her in the game at that time, so we went back with her.”
While Strafford was able to overcome its early challenge, Mt. Vernon wasn’t so lucky with any of its three significant roadblocks during the game.
For one, its attack sputtered to a halt in the second period due to Strafford’s perimeter defense pushing the Lady ‘Neer guards out well beyond the arc. Forced to run its offense from the volleyball line at times, Mt. Vernon struggled to find looks at the basket.
Once again, Strafford’s smothering defensive pressure opened up its transition game and led to a huge, momentum-swinging run in the second quarter.
When the dust settled, the Lady Indians had completed a 23-2 run and opened up a 39-14 halftime lead.
Mt. Vernon head coach Dusty Killingsworth credited Strafford’s defensive effort for completely taking his team out of its game plan in the quarter.
“We were running away from things a little bit,” Killingsworth said. “What we needed to do was pick and step, but we weren’t picking or stepping. We were just kind of going one-on-one a little bit, and that’s what Strafford does to you. Their defense in the second quarter was the difference in the game.”
Junior Madison Chittenden also caused Mt. Vernon fits with her defensive efforts on junior Cameron Call.
Strafford’s defensive specialist locked up the Lady ‘Neer playmaker all evening, holding the junior guard to a mere 2-for-8 shooting performance for 4 points in the game.
“The plan was to just not let [Call] shoot the whole time,” Chittenden said. “She’s an amazing 3-point shooter and, if you let her get hot, she’ll just keep rolling. My job was just to keep out on her and not let her shoot it. If she did go by me, I had help defense there to pick me up.”
Mt. Vernon’s third significant challenge in the quarter was due to its own early foul issues. After picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter, freshman standout Lacy Stokes was called for a third early in the second and forced to the bench.
Coach Frank praised his team’s defensive push in the quarter.
“Our help defense was good tonight,” Frank said. “That’s where this team makes ground. We do a good job on the defensive end, so it kind of leads to our offense, as well.”
While Mt. Vernon rallied late with 23 points in the final period, the deficit — up to 35 points in the third quarter — was simply too great to overcome.
Hayley Frank led all scorers with 26 points. She was joined in double figures by Kayley Frank’s 13 for the Lady Indians.
Despite the loss, Killingsworth was proud of his team’s second-half resolve.
“I can’t be any prouder of our team,” Killingsworth said. “Coming back out after a very shaky second quarter. We still didn’t do the things we wanted to, offensively, but we played extremely hard for the rest of the game. That’s what character is.”
Stokes led the Lady ‘Neers with 13 points.
Strafford (29-0) now moves on to the state quarterfinal round. The Lady Indians will meet Licking (26-2) Sat., March 3, at Drury University.
Varsity Final: Strafford – 69, Mt. Vernon – 43
Strafford 16 23 24 06 — 69
Mt. Vernon 12 02 16 13 — 43
Strafford scoring: Hayley Frank – 26, Kayley Frank – 13, Zoey Mullings – 9, Kyndall Compton – 9, Madison Chittenden – 6, Mica Chadwell – 4, Logan Jones – 2,
Mt. Vernon scoring: Lacy Stokes – 13, Camryn Eldridge – 9, Caitlyn Hicks – 8, Ashlyn McCanless – 5, Cameron Call – 4, Lauren Vaughan – 2, Lyndsey Hood – 1, Bethany Williams – 1