By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Strafford, Mo. — Looks like Lady Indians aren’t ready to concede Class 3 just yet.
Days after reclaiming the top spot in the state rankings, Strafford turned back another hungry challenger Monday night in a 60-44 victory over No. 5 Clever.
Emma Mullings scored 14 points to lead a balanced Lady Indians attack. The 5-foot-4 sophomore was joined in double figures by Mica Chadwall (13) and Taylor Dormann (11).
After falling behind early, Strafford’s defense and composure took center stage late in the second quarter.
Trailing by as many as 8 points in the first quarter, Strafford turned to that aggressive defense to help generate a momentum shifting run to close out the half up 24-20.
Strafford head coach Dustin Larsen praised his squad for weathering a sluggish start without panicking.
“Anytime you’re playing a good basketball team, anything can happen,” Larsen said. “That’s why we always just try to keep level-headed and play our game. We came out a little bit hesitant, offensively, and I just thought we got a lot more aggressive and really set the tone, defensively.”
Mullings poured in a pivotal 8 points in the second — including a pair of 3-pointers — to key the Lady Indians run.
She was quick to credit the team’s focus at the defensive end for her success.
“Our team just locked down on defense,” Mullings said. “My teammates were just working really hard on D. They just happened to pass me the ball, and I just happened to have lots of confidence to just shoot it.”
Both teams picked up the scoring tempo In the third.
While Strafford showcased a balanced attack — four different Lady Indians scored at least 6 points in the quarter — Clever turned to playmaker Allie Clevenger for its offensive burst.
The 5-foot-8 senior responded.
Clevenger poured in 13 of her game-high 26 points in the third quarter to pace the Lady Blue Jays, who also benefited from a pair of 3-pointers by Mackenzie Simpson and Ruthie Brown.
Simpson, a 5-foot-8 sophomore finished with 11 points for Clever.
Despite the offensive output, it wasn’t enough for the Lady Jays to build any momentum.
While Strafford’s defense continuing to force tempo, the chaotic pace proved to be well-suited for its offense, as well.
“I liked our grittiness, defensively,” Larsen said. “I thought that set the tone, but then we really got aggressive attacking, offensively, and we’re so much better when we have that mindset.”
Strafford’s gritty mindset carried over to the final period, as the Lady Indians held Clever to a mere five points in the quarter.
Mica Chadwell’s aggressive play under the basket helped seal the Lady Indians victory with 6 key points in the final two minutes.
The 5-foot-6 senior stole an inbounds pass for a quick layup then, moments later, converted a pair of offensive rebounds into easy put-backs.
For the defensive-minded Chadwell, the game’s final minutes turned into a perfect storm.
“Defense is kind of my thing,” Chadwell said. “We’re a good defensive team, and we thrive on aggressive games — that’s where we really show our true colors.”
Up next for Clever (15-7) is a trip to Stockton on Thursday, Feb. 13. Strafford (22-2) hosts Skyline next Monday, Feb. 17.
Varsity Final: Strafford – 60, Clever – 44
Clever 14 06 19 05 — 44
Strafford 09 15 25 11 — 60
Clever scoring: Allie Clevenger – 26, Mackenzie Simpson – 11, Ruthie Brown – 5, Madison Gladney – 2
Strafford scoring: Emma Mullings – 14, Mica Chadwell – 13, Taylor Dormann – 11, Logan Jones – 9, Taylor Treat – 7, Emma Compton – 4, Mattie Walker – 2
JV Final: Strafford – 50, Clever – 22 (Sophia Frerking – 27 points)