By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Strafford, Mo. — During its 108-game win streak and three-straight state championship runs, Strafford has gotten used to fast starts.
The Lady Indians opened up Thursday’s senior night matchup against arch-rival Fair Grove with yet another quick burst en route to a 56-27 victory.
While the 10-0 run put the visiting Lady Eagles in an early peril, it was Strafford’s interior defense that stole the spotlight.
Fair Grove standouts Alana Findley and Harley Maxwell were held to a combined five points in the first quarter, as the Lady Indians were able to minimize early touches and scoring opportunities for the playmaking duo.
Limiting the 6-foot-2 Maxwell, in particular, was a key factor in the Lady Indians’ game plan. Strafford’s Haley Frank proved up to the task, holding the Fair Grove senior to 6 points on the evening.
“Our whole key tonight was to double down every time Alana or Harley caught the ball,” Frank said. “That’s a big tribute to my help defense — I was able to comfortably just work around front and rely on my help side. Just knowing that they’re there makes it a lot easier to do my job.”
A 6-footer with size, the Strafford senior was able to disrupt Fair Grove’s interior attack throughout the game, according to head coach Steve Frank.
“Once Harley gets inside and posts up, it’s hard to do anything with her,” Frank said. “but Hayley’s length makes it kind of tough; they had a hard time lobbing the ball in to her. That kind of really helps big time with Harley.”
At 5-foot-7, Strafford’s Madison Chittenden drew the difficult task of slowing down a bigger, more physical player in the 5-foot-10 Findley.
While Findley finished with a team-high 14 points, the Fair Grove senior netted just a single basket through the first 13 minutes of play before Chittenden was forced to the bench with a second foul.
“[Findley] is a lot bigger, and she’s really strong,” Chittenden said. “Going into it, I just knew that I had to keep her off the block, and I had to make sure she used her right hand because, if I let her go left, she was going to be scoring all day.”
Coach Frank praised Chittenden’s performance on the evening.
“Chit just does a great job against whoever we’re playing,” Frank said. “We always try to put her on the other team’s best player, and she really locks down. We really tried to come with a lot of help, because Alana likes to put the ball on the floor a lot. When she would spin, we’d try to have somebody sitting there on the help side. I thought those two things were real keys tonight to keep them in check.”
Strafford led 32-19 at the break, with both Hayley and Kayley Frank providing most of the offensive punch.
The senior duo finished with 20 and 16 points, respectively. Junior Logan Jones joined the Franks in double figures with 11.
After a sluggish third quarter from both teams, the Lady Indians were able to stretch the lead into the 20s during the final period and seal the victory.
Fair Grove head coach Jenny Talbert talked about the difficulties her team faced in trying to get into an offensive flow.
“[Strafford] is just so big at every position,” Talbert said. “We have two pretty big post players, but they’re able to sag off some on my guards and create a lot of havoc for Alana. Most of the time, you could see three or four of them on Alana at a time.”
While both teams struggled at times from the perimeter, Fair Grove found it especially difficult to get anything going from long range.
“We were cold as can be from the perimeter, and that’s really not how we’ve been all season,” Talbert said. “We normally hit some shots and shoot a better percentage from three, but this is a tough place to shoot. We got good looks, we just didn’t make them. It’s a big night when you’re playing one of the best teams ever, and it’s their senior night.”
Strafford honored its six senior players with a special video prior to the game showcasing the team’s many accomplishments during its storied, championship runs.
The video brought back many memories for the group, and senior Kayley Frank talked about conversations she used to have in junior high with her sister. Conversations about matching Crane’s historic run at four-straight state championships.
“I remember whenever we were freshmen,” Frank said. “We’d just won our first state championship, and we were talking to the Crane girls. And we just told them, ‘We want to be you guys, and we want to win four in a row,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, you do it. You guys can so do it. I remember just having that conversation with them. So then being able to win three and, hopefully, working towards our fourth, it’s just unreal.”
When the Frank sisters headed to the bench in the game’s final minutes — for the final time on the Strafford court — emotions on the bench ran high from both players and coaches.
After the game, Coach Frank talked about the luck and joys to be able to coach his two daughters throughout their high school careers.
“It’s been such a pleasure, all the way through, from the time they were little kids sitting on the bench with me and going into the locker room,” Frank said. “Getting the opportunity to coach them and be there for their last game on this floor … I think last night, when I laid down, it really hit me. I didn’t sleep very well last night, but knowing it’s not their last ball game makes it a little easier for me.”
Strafford’s 108-game win streak moves it into the top-ten national win streaks for girls high school basketball. Louisiana’s Baskin High School set the nation’s longest winning streak from 1948 to 1953 at 218 games.
Varsity Final: Strafford – 56, Fair Grove – 27
Fair Grove 07 12 05 03 — 27
Strafford 14 18 07 17 — 56
Fair Grove scoring: Alana Findley – 14, Harley Maxwell – 6, Cydney Fullerton – 5, Brooklyn Luna – 2
Strafford scoring: Hayley Frank – 20, Kayley Frank – 16, Logan Jones – 11, Kyndall Compton – 6, Emma Compton – 3
JV Final: Strafford – 54, Fair Grove – 30