By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
WILLARD – By the looks early on in Wednesday night’s Class 3 sectional game, it appeared as though it was going to be Mount Vernon’s night to end its sectional losing streak to Strafford.
But, you can never count out the Strafford Lady Indians – especially in the postseason.
The Lady Indians turned up the defensive pressure and shut out the Lady Mountaineers in the third quarter for a 49-40 victory to advance to their fifth-straight quarterfinal game – their fourth-straight time coming against Mount Vernon.
Mount Vernon, which ended the season 23-7 overall, jumped out to a 5-0 lead to open the game and took a 10-6 lead at the end of the first quarter on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from half-court by junior Ellie Johnston.
Another 5-0 run in the second quarter, put the Lady Mountaineers up 10 (20-10), and they went into the locker room with a 22-18 advantage, thanks to another Johnston basket just before the halftime buzzer.
“When we got in the locker room, we were all ‘just settle down,’ we were all calm,” said sophomore guard Emma Compton, who led the Lady Indians with 14 points. “We just talked to each other about everything we needed to work on. I think the big thing with us is we keep each other up; we build each other up. Nobody gets down on every mistake. We pick each other up, so I think that’s what helps us.
“It was stressful, yes, but we’re so close and we keep the stress down with each other. I think the defense was our main key, so we stepped up and played good defense.”
But, in the early going both teams struggled to get shots to fall.
“We just got a little excited, I thought, early offensively,” Strafford coach Dustin Larsen said. “I thought we were guarding pretty well early, but we just got a little amped up; a couple of shots didn’t go down and we got a little antsy. I just told our kids to just stay the course, be patient and get back to doing the things we talked about doing and I thought they did a tremendous job.”
Trailing at halftime, the Lady Indians did not come out of the locker room to warm up until the start of the third quarter.
“I just wanted to make them understand what we needed to get back to doing,” Larsen said. “The biggest thing was the way we play; not ever going away from believing in ourselves, trusting each other and just being patient.”
Strafford opened the third quarter with a bucket by Logan Jones (22-20). But, it wasn’t until the 5:35 mark that Strafford would take its first lead, which came on a conventional three-point play by Compton. That really seemed to spark the Lady Indians, who would outscore Mount Vernon 12-0 in the quarter.
“We just set the tone, defensively, in that second half and really executed offensively much better, and just really showed the type of team I think that we are,” Larsen said.
And, that third quarter proved that.
“They had a 20-2 run on us the middle game, and we knew that they would have a run,” Mount Vernon coach Grant Berendt said. “We talked about runs; we talked about a quick start. Last year, we got down big in this game, so this year, we wanted to come out and play with them and keep it close. We had some shots fall early. That was a great shot by Ellie at half-court there in the first, just a big momentum swing.
“But, we knew they were going to come at us. We knew they had shooters; we knew that they were big inside. We withstood the run initially, and we scored there right before the buzzer on an offensive putback. We talked at halftime about they’re coming; they’re going to have another run in them. They did a really good job of keying in on our big-time scorers and making them take tough shots there in the third and they stretched (the lead) out a little bit more.”
Strafford extended its lead to 13 (43-30), and Mount Vernon chipped away in the fourth and pulled within nine (45-36) on a 3-pointer by junior Lacey Stokes, but that’s as close as the Lady Mountaineers would get.
“My hat’s off to Mount Vernon for the great job that they’ve done,” Larsen said of the two teams’ fourth-straight sectional meeting. “To continue to keep their program at a high level, I have just complete respect for them.
“Anytime anyone gets to this game, everyone wants to move on. No one wants their season to end. The sad thing is someone’s has to, and I thought our kids understood and just competed at an extremely high level, and gave ourselves a great opportunity and we were able to come through.”
Next up for the Lady Indians – who are chasing a fifth-straight state title – is Southern Boone, a 64-41 winner over Butler, in the quarterfinal round on Saturday.
“We’ve just got to get prepared, and just be the best version of us,” Larsen said.
Class 3 Sectional
STRAFFORD 49, MOUNT VERNON 40
MOUNT VERNON 10-12-0-18—40
MOUNT VERNON (23-7) – Ellie Johnston 14, Cameryn Cassity 1, Lacey Stokes 19, Lily Davis 5, Kadence Krempges 1.
STRAFFORD (27-3) – Emma Compton 14, Taylor Dormann 8, Mica Chadwell 10, Logan Jones 11, Emma Mullings 2, Mattie Davis 4.
Up next: Class 3 quarterfinal – Strafford vs. Southern Boone (23-4), 6 p.m., Saturday at Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar