By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
STRAFFORD – After closing out the first quarter on an 11-0 run, the Strafford Lady Indians left little doubt about what the final outcome would be in the Class 3 District 11 championship game on Saturday.
Top-seeded Strafford won its fifth-straight district title, but its first with head coach Dustin Larsen, with a 54-24 victory over No. 2 seed Forsyth.
“Like I told them, we started this journey together several months ago,” said Larsen, who is in his first year as the Strafford girls’ coach. “I couldn’t be more proud of everything, the hard work they put in and just how coachable they are. That’s something that they deserve greatly.”
The game was competitive in the early going, as Forsyth held a brief lead when Triniti Sullenger hit a 3-pointer from the wing to give the Lady Panthers a 7-6 advantage. But, a bucket from Mica Chadwell and a putback by Logan Jones started things rolling for the Lady Indians.
“I think we were a little nervous,” said Jones, who scored a game-high 19 points. “But in the second half, we cleaned it up a little bit. Overall, our defense was really what the key was. We held them to 20-some points, so that’s incredible.”
But, that is something Strafford, which improved to 26-3, did all tournament long. Over the three games, the Lady Indians’ average margin of victory was 41 points. Even when they have a lapse at any point during a game, they find a way to turn it into a positive.
“I’m just so proud of my team,” Jones said. “We’ve proven that we’ve overcome so many obstacles, that we’re still here and we haven’t gone away. I think we’ve proven a lot of people wrong who have doubted us.”
Forsyth, which last was in a district final back in the 1990’s, could never string much offense together due to the pressure Strafford applied defensively.
“They know how to win and they’ve been here before,” Forsyth coach Mandy Rogers said of Strafford. “They’re a great team and very well-coached and do a lot of good things. They’re pretty tough, and we struggled with some simple things and some basic things. Each time, they took advantage of those opportunities, and it kind of deflated us just a little bit. Things that we had done well all season we failed to do today, but credit to them. It was maybe more of their pressure and their intensity that caused us to do that.”
Rogers was proud, however, of the strides her team has made this season.
“It’s been a long time coming and our kids set some lofty goals for sure,” Rogers said of the Lady Panthers (20-7) advancing to the title game. “We kept meeting those and then trying to exceed them, so I’m super-proud of them and everything that they accomplished.
“We know what it takes to get here now, and we know what it’s like whenever we’re here. So, hopefully, we can continue to build on that in the offseason.”
The Lady Indians, who returned one starter this season from a team that won four-straight state championships, know what it takes, and what it means, to reach that level of success.
“The feeling really never gets old, honestly,” said senior Mica Chadwell, who joined Jones in double figures with 12 points. “We don’t really go in there expecting to win, we just know that our team knows how to play, and we just went out there and we played how we knew to play. Whenever we’d make a mistake, we’d all bring each other up told them ‘it’s no big deal.’ Everyone’s gonna make mistakes; we just keep moving forward.”
Up next for the Lady Indians is the sectional round against a familiar foe – Mount Vernon, a 49-39 winner over Clever in the Class 3 District 12 final.
“Our focus is to respect every team but not to fear anyone,” Chadwell said. “We play Mount Vernon on Wednesday, and we’re just gonna go in there ready to play to the best of our ability.”
“I’m going to enjoy this until the end of the day,” Larsen said, “but, Mount Vernon’s a good program. It competes at a high level every year. We’ve got a great deal respect and we’re going to try to prepare our kids to have success. We’re just grateful for the opportunity to go play on Wednesday.”
Class 3 District 11
STRAFFORD 54, FORSYTH 24
FORSYTH (20-7) – Triniti Sullenger 3, Kaylee Henning 5, Emily Shipman 8, Scarlett Texiera 2, Calley Matthews 2, Meadow Mardis 2, Kloe Hendrickson 2.
STRAFFORD (26-3) – Emma Compton 7, Taylor Dormann 4, Mica Chadwell 12, Logan Jones 19, Taylor Treat 3, Emma Mullings 7, Hannah Hess 2.
Up next: Class 3 sectional – Strafford vs. Mount Vernon, 6 p.m., at Willard.