Defense propels Strafford past Mt. Vernon to Class 3 quarterfinals

By Dana Harding (For

Willard, Mo. — The streak continues.

Strafford ran its state-record win streak to 112 games and advanced to the Class 3 quarterfinals Wednesday night, as the Lady Indians overwhelmed Mt. Vernon 54-24.

Hayley Frank led all scorers with 20 points in the matchup.

From the opening tip, Mt. Vernon forced a slow, methodic tempo and attempted to bleed the clock with each possession.

While the defensive game plan worked, to some extent — Strafford was held to just 19 points in the first half — the Lady Mountaineers were unable to capitalize on the plan.

Ellie Johnston’s basket with 6:53 left in the second quarter represented Mt. Vernon’s first points of the game, as the Lady ‘Neers were held to just four points in the half.

Strafford head coach Steve Frank had a hunch his team was in for a plodding affair.

“Skyline tried to do that to us when we were there, and it didn’t work out well for them, either,” Frank said. “It does hold our scoring down a little bit, but the other team’s got to put the ball in the hole, too. It does make for kind of a slow game — kind of an ugly game — but we knew it was going to be that way and we were prepared for it.”

In the third, Strafford’s Hayley Frank went to work and helped stretch the lead.

After a slow start, the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year poured in 11-straight points in the quarter.

Known for extremely brief halftime talks, Strafford seemed to linger just a bit this time around.

Coach Frank talked about urging his players, Hayley in particular, to be more aggressive on offense.

“I told her that she had to go to work,” Coach Frank said. “In a game like that I think sometimes you can get a little passive, and you have to take advantage of your opportunities. Of course, we ran a couple sets right to her and that always kind of helps open things up. I think she just looked to be a little more aggressive on offense and and, in turn, gave us a little more of a run on scoring.”

Unfazed by the slower tempo and limited scoring, Hayley Frank simply bided her time.

“We just put up so many points, I think people have figured out — well, maybe, you don’t let them have the ball,” Hayley Frank said. “But, I thought we played good defense, stayed solid and stayed together. In the second half, we started taking it to our post players and scoring inside and getting to the free throw line. That kind of changed the game a little bit.”

A pair of Emma Compton free throws capped a late, 13-2 run by the Lady Indians, who led 37-18 heading into the final period.

While Mt. Vernon was finally able to generate some offense in the second half, the deficit proved to be too much to overcome, along with Strafford defensive stopper Madison Chittenden.

One of the Ozarks’ best defenders, Chittenden held Illinois State signee Cameron Call to five points on the evening.

Coach Frank praised his senior for another consistent performance on the defensive end.

“You’ve got to give credit where credit’s due,” Coach Frank said. “[Chittenden] flat gets out and guards, and I’ve always said that, all year, it’s kind of the unstatted thing that really stands out for her.”

Chittenden finished with 11 points to join Hayley Frank in double figures for Strafford.

Up next for Strafford (30-0) is a March 2 quarterfinal matchup against South Callaway.

Class 3 Sectional Final: Strafford – 54, Mt. Vernon – 24

Mt. Vernon 00 04 14 06 — 24
Strafford 11 08 18 17 — 54

Mt. Vernon scoring: Caitlyn Hicks – 7, Ashlyn McCanless – 6, Cameron Call – 5, Lacy Stokes – 4, Ellie Johnson – 2

Strafford scoring: Hayley Frank – 20, Madison Chittenden – 11, Logan Jones – 8, Kayley Frank – 8, Emma Compton – 4, Kyndall Compton – 3