By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Mica Chadwell kept the faith.
Emma Compton played smarter, but never toned it down.
The moment didn’t immediately hit Logan Jones.
Whatever perspective you want to take, it all comes down to this:
Never doubt a champion.
Strafford overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half to defeat Licking 65-62 in Saturday’s Class 3 girls’ Show-Me Showdown championship game at JQH Arena.
The Lady Indians trailed by 14 in the third quarter, then 59-54 with four minutes to play. Strafford closed the game on an 11-3 run to capture its record-setting fifth straight state title.
Compton led four Lady Indians in double figures with 20 points, while playing with four fouls much of the second half.
“I never believed we’d lose,” said Chadwell, who had 17 points and nine rebounds. “I knew my team would pull it out in the end. We got shook up a bit, but I never once lost faith in our team.”
With the win, Strafford becomes the first program in MSHSAA history to win five straight state championships in girls’ basketball.
“I’m not going to lie: When the buzzer went off, I still thought there was another quarter,” Jones said. “It still hasn’t sunk in. And I don’t think it will. I couldn’t be more proud of these girls. From the beginning of the season to now, we’ve made a huge leap.”
Strafford won the game at the free throw line. The Lady Indians made 27 of 32 free throw attempts; Compton went 11-for-11.
Compton made two free throws that put the Lady Indians up 60-59 with a minute to play. After Licking missed a one-and-one then a 3-pointer, Compton added two more free throws to make it 62-59 with 32 seconds left.
Compton picked up her fourth personal foul with two minutes left in the third and Strafford trailing 51-41.
“There was still plenty of time,” said Strafford coach Dustin Larsen. “That’s the greatest thing you learn: You just have to stay focused and be in the present.
“We just focus on trying to be in the present, that way we can celebrate in the future.”
Compton remained in the game and, not deterred, her intensity seemed to pick up.
“I’ve gotten used to that. I’ve been in foul trouble a lot lately,” said Compton, who finished with four steals. “My team helped me out a lot. I give a lot of thanks to them and for everybody stepping up.
“Coach Larsen kept reminding me to be smart (with four fouls), so I knew I couldn’t disappoint him.”
Licking missed a desperation heave from half-court at the buzzer.
The Lady Wildcats, playing in a state championship game for the first time in program history, led 43-29 early in the third quarter after Karlee Holland’s 3-pointer.
“I felt like we were in control the majority of the game,” said Licking coach Steve Rissler. “It just came down to a few moments where the ball didn’t bounce our way. At this level, every play counts.”
Said Licking senior Abby Moncrief: “We were really close. And I thought we were going to do it.”
Holland had a record-setting performance in the loss. She finished with a game-high 33 points and made her first six 3-point attempts.
Holland finished with seven 3-pointers, which is tied for the second-most by one player in MSHSAA final four history. Glendale’s Kellie Noyes made a record eight 3s against Jackson in 1996.
“(Karlee) went out on her shield,” Rissler said. “I think we did everything we could do.”
Strafford, leading 62-59, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 22 seconds remaining. But Taylor Dormann grabbed the offensive rebound and split a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game.
Holland followed with her seventh 3-pointer to make it 63-62 with six seconds remaining.
The outcome gives Larsen, who’s in his first year at Strafford, his first state championship as a head coach. He coached the Springfield Catholic boys to a runner-up finish last year.
“We wanted to go out and win it for us, but win it for him as well,” Jones said. “He’s put a lot of effort and time into making us feel good and reminding us that we’re leaders not only on the court, but off the court as well. We’re super blessed to have him in our lives.”
Licking finishes 25-6 overall and graduates two seniors in Holland and Abby Moncrief. Holland is Licking’s all-time leading scorer and finishes with over 2,000 career points.
Moncrief was all-state in track and field (shot put) last year and tallied 159 kills for Licking’s final four volleyball team this past fall.
“I like the team we have coming back,” Rissler said. “We expect to win now. We definitely made a name for Licking girls’ basketball today by taking Strafford to the brink.”
Strafford graduates a four-player senior class in Jones, Chadwell, Dormann and Taylor Treat. It’s the second straight season that Strafford has graduated four starters.
“I learned a lot from the past and seeing everyone grow together, but to actually be one of the players out there and putting myself out there for everyone on the team… (winning a state championship) feels a lot different now,” Treat said.
Strafford 65, Licking 62
Licking 23 14 16 9 — 62
Strafford 19 8 20 18 — 65
Licking (25-6 overall) – Karlee Holland 33, Anna Sullins 13, Macie Sparks 6, Abigail Moncrief 4, Kylie Taylor 2, Abbie Sullins 2, Tomi Rose 2
Strafford (29-3 overall) – Emma Compton 20, Mica Chadwell 17, Taylor Dormann 14, Logan Jones 10, Taylor Treat 2, Emma Mullings 2