Fair Grove coach Jenny Talbert says her seniors might’ve been hit with a ‘career-could-be-over’ type of reality at halftime of Saturday’s district title game versus Strafford.
The Lady Eagles were clinging to a one-point lead, nearly one year after they lost in overtime to Springfield Catholic in the 2012 district finals.
“At halftime, I think our seniors realized, ‘This could be it,’” Talbert said. “They felt a sense of urgency.”
Not wanting to fall short in the district finals two seasons in a row, Fair Grove came out of halftime and kept the lead for good, winning 64-56. The Lady Eagles will play Mid-Lakes Conference foe Ash Grove at 7:45 Wednesday night at Baptist Bible College in Springfield.
Fair Grove lost 64-61 at Strafford on Feb. 14. Turnovers took their toll on Fair Grove in that meeting, Talbert said.
The second time around, Fair Grove better handled Strafford’s aggressive full-court defense.
"As much as it hurt to lose that one then, I kinda thought in the back of my mind, 'They can have that one, let's go win the district title,'" Talbert said. "I know that means a lot more to my girls. They were hurt they lost, but we knew there was a silver lining.
"It's hard to beat a team twice, especially this late in the season," Talbert said. "I thought if we could handle their pressure, not let their defense get to us, then I thought we had a good shot."
Fair Grove jumped ahead 41-31 midway through the third quarter on Shelby Morrow’s basket.
In the fourth quarter, the Lady Eagles went ahead 52-41 after Taylor Davis hit a 3-pointer while being fouled (she missed the free throw).
But the game would swing in Strafford’s favor about 20 seconds later when Fair Grove senior center Morgan Kensinger picked up her fourth personal foul with 5:10 remaining.
The Lady Indians chipped away at Fair Grove’s lead with Kensinger on the bench, getting within 56-52 at the two-minute mark when Emily Oberbeck hit a 3-pointer.
“We tried to isolate some people and get the ball inside because (Kensinger) wasn’t in there,” said Strafford coach David Brewer. “We were able to get to the free throw line and get some points. We told the girls, ‘Just keep pressing (on defense).’ Teams tend to, in a game like this, protect the lead and get on their heels. We were just going to stay after them.”
Fair Grove freshman Bailey Weaver, who finished with 13 points, fouled out with 1:22 remaining, prompting Talber to put Kensinger back into the game as the Lady Eagles led 59-56.
After Kensinger re-entered the game, Strafford forced Fair Grove into a turnover. But the Lady Indians never got a shot off as they committed a giveaway of their own to give possession back to Fair Grove.
The Lady Eagles (19-8 overall) then broke Strafford’s full-court press attempt and found Shania Hawley for a wide-open layup to go ahead 61-56 with 45 seconds left. Strafford missed a 3-pointer on its next possession.
"I wanted to keep that 10-point lead, as it started to dip to 6, to 5, to 4, I knew we had to get (Kensinger) back in because she's just so important on both ends of the floor," Talbert said. "She's a great presence on offense and defense."
Strafford finishes 20-9 overall after entering January with a record of 7-6.
Fair Grove 64, Strafford 56
Strafford 14 12 13 17 --- 56
Fair Grove 11 16 21 16 --- 64
Strafford – Kaylee Larimer 17, Amanda Rowden 13, Jenna Clements 11, Emily Oberbeck 5, Hannah Collins 4, Megan Carrell 4, Morgan Graffis 2
Fair Grove – DeAmbra Pilkinton 15, Bailey Weaver 13, Shania Hawley 12, Morgan Kensinger 11, Taylor Davis 7, Shelby Morrow 6