By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Active defense. Dynamic transition offense. Unselfish passing to fuel balanced scoring.
Two-time defending state champion Strafford flashed its full arsenal in Saturday’s quarterfinal blowout of Licking.
The Indians took over in the second quarter and cruised to a convincing 85-40 victory at Drury’s O’Reilly Family Event Center. Kayley Frank had a game-high 25 points plus seven rebounds, while twin sister Hayley Frank added 18 points and 12 rebounds.
“It’s really special,” said Strafford coach Steve Frank about a third straight Class 3 final four trip. “At this time of year, I hope our kids don’t take it for granted because they’re going to look back some day and realize how special it really is.”
Strafford faces Saxony Lutheran (25-4 overall) or Whitfield (21-6 overall) in the Class 3 state semifinals on Thursday, March 9. Game time is set for 2:40 p.m. at Missouri State University’s Hammons Student Center.
The Indians have won 80 straight games.
“To beat someone like (Strafford), you have to keep them off-balance,” said Licking coach Steven Rissler. “They went on a stretch there in the second quarter. It was just too much.”
A pair of Licking 3-pointers gave the Wildcats an early 6-0 lead.
Strafford regained control and led 17-9 after the first quarter. They didn’t look back.
“Every team’s going to try to come out and hit you with their best shot,” Steve Frank said. “(Licking) came out and hit us right in the mouth to start the game.
“That’s the thing about this team, though: they’re so resilient. They didn’t let it phase them. They stuck to the game plan.”
Strafford blew the game open in the second quarter, outscoring Licking 29-7. Licking turnovers led to Strafford layups and 3s.
“We adjusted to them and their outside shooting,” Kayley Frank said. “Karlee Holland, she was driving it hard to the basket, so we know we had to help off on her then close out hard and get a hand over the ball. I think we did a better job of that in the second quarter.”
The Indians made five of their eight 3-pointers in the second quarter.
Five players scored seven or more for Strafford (31-0 overall). Zoey Mullings had 14 points, Madison Chittenden 13 points and six assists, and Logan Jones came off the bench to score seven.
Kayley Frank scored 18 in the first half
“We wanted someone besides Hayley (Frank) and Madison (Chittendon) to have to score. Then, (Kayley) Frank goes for like (18) in the first half,” Rissler said.
Chittenden again provided stellar defense. She had primary duty on Licking leading scorer Karlee Holland (20 ppg) and held her to eight points.
In Wednesday’s sectional game against Mt. Vernon, Chittenden limited Mountaineers all-state guard Cameron Call to four points.
“(Madison) does a great job on defense,” Steve Frank said. “That’s the (non-statistic) thing that happens out there on the court. With our whole group, they do a great job defensively. Everybody helps well, they talk and communicate.
“That’s where our game has really stepped up because the defense creates our offense. We’re able to get out in transition at that point.”
Junior guard Lexi Hadix led Licking with 16 points.
Licking finishes 26-3 overall. The Wildcats have won five district championships since the 2012-13 season.
Saturday marked the first state quarterfinal appearance in that span.
“It was a really good experience for us,” Rissler said. “I think it’ll be good for our program in the long run. We’ve had a good run here, but I think we’re going to have a (bigger) run that lasts a long time.
“With what we have returning, we’ll have a chance to be back here.”
Strafford 85, Licking 40
Licking 9 7 19 5 — 40
Strafford 17 29 25 14 — 85
Licking – Lexi Hadix 16, Karlee Holland 8, Anna Sullins 6, Dalrayn Feringa 6, Lainy Hadix 4
Strafford – Kayley Frank 25, Hayley Frank 18, Zoey Mullings 14, Madison Chittenden 13, Logan Jones 7, Mica Chadwell 5, Kyndall Compton 3