By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
ASH GROVE – The lineup may have changed, but the winning remains the same for the Strafford Lady Indians.
Led by Emma Compton’s 22 points, the Lady Indians held off the Walnut Grove Lady Tigers for a 73-62 victory in the Ash Grove Lady Pirate Classic championship game Saturday afternoon.
The win improved Strafford’s record to 4-0 on the season and extended its state-record winning streak to 119 games.
The opening minutes of the championship game definitely looked like a matchup of two state championship teams – Strafford (Class 3) and Walnut Grove (Class 1) – with both teams trading leads until Strafford used a few mini runs to turn a one-point deficit into a 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Lady Indians’ balanced attack helped them take the lead with sophomore point guard Compton scoring nine of the team’s 27 first-quarter points, and five players getting in the scorebook.
“That’s what’s going to make this team really special, is the balance,” said Strafford coach Dustin Larsen, who last season led the Springfield Catholic boys’ team to the Class 3 final four. “Teams can’t just focus on one person. We have several strong players and a strong team. When they get to where they’re passing the basketball, making the extra pass and playing really hard, it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Strafford extended its lead throughout the second quarter, leading by as many as 18 points (47-29) heading into intermission. Logan Jones, the Lady Indians’ lone returning starter from last year’s team, which won its fourth-straight state championship, had 16 points at halftime.
Since playing a reserve role her freshman year, Compton has taken over the point guard position from her older sister Kyndall, who graduated as a four-time champion. And, little sister has emerged as a leader for the Lady Indians.
“It’s a lot different, definitely, from last year,” Compton said. “I didn’t play a lot last year and I didn’t really have to handle the ball. I looked to other people to do that. So, coming in this year and being the main point guard was different, but I’m used to it.”
Walnut Grove wasn’t going quietly in the second half. Sparked by Faith Gilkey’s 11 points in a four-minute span, the Lady Tigers (2-1) used an 8-0 run to cut Strafford’s lead to six points (49-43) with 4:38 to go in the third quarter.
But, then Strafford used its own 10-0 run to go up 16 (59-43), capped by Compton’s driving layup. The two teams traded baskets until Compton found Mattie Walker, who was fouled at the buzzer and sank two free throws to give the Lady Indians a 63-49 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Gilkey willed the Lady Tigers throughout the game – scoring a game-high 35 points, handling the ball and hitting the boards – as Walnut Grove sports a young team, a thin bench and is without all-state post Makayla McVay (ACL) until at least January.
“I’m super-proud of our team’s effort tonight,” Walnut Grove Rory Henry said. “Strafford is really, really good – we know that. We wanted to have a shot at them. They played unbelievable and did a heck of a job tonight, and just shot the ball tremendously.
“To play without (McVay) and to give the effort we had tonight… we’ve got a lot of young kids on the floor that are getting a lot better. We gave it everything we had tonight.”
Walnut Grove outscored Strafford 13-10 in the fourth quarter, including fighting back to within nine points (71-62), but the deficit was too big to overcome.
“They’ve got a great program and tradition at Walnut Grove,” Larsen said. “In a championship game, everyone’s going to bring their best and they really competed at a high level. Those types of games only make you better, so it was a good team win for us.
“I’m blessed with how well these girls are playing and coming together. I’m just super-proud of them with the challenges they face each day, just coming in and working extremely hard and keep getting better. They showed a lot of grit tonight.”
Ash Grove Lady Pirate Classic
STRAFFORD 73, WALNUT GROVE 62
WALNUT GROVE 17-12-20-13—62
WALNUT GROVE (2-1) – Sadye Crump 3, Jaedyn Johnson 4, Faith Gilkey 35, Cortney Stevens 6 and Lauren Johnson 14.
STRAFFORD (4-0) – Emma Compton 22, Taylor Dormann 16, Mica Chadwell 2, Logan Jones 18, Taylor Treat 2, Emma Mullings 9, Mattie Walker 4.
Third-place game: Miller 53, Ash Grove 39
All-Tournament Team: Emma Compton, Strafford; Logan Jones, Strafford; Faith Gilkey, Walnut Grove; Lauren Johnson, Walnut Grove; Khloe Moad, Ash Grove and Kaylee Helton, Miller.