Strafford freshman Kaylee Larimer thought twice about firing up that game-tying 3-pointer from the top of the key.
“I thought I was too far out,” Larimer said. “But then coach (David) Brewer was like, ‘Shoot it, shoot it!’ So I shot it, and I (realized), ‘That’s going to go in.’”
Larimer’s trey tied the game at 39 with less than 1:30 remaining, and Strafford would score the final five points – all at the free throw line – to beat state-ranked Ash Grove 44-39 on Thursday night.
Strafford closed on a 16-3 run after trailing by eight points with five minutes remaining. Ash Grove entered the game 15-4 overall and ranked No. 4 in the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Class 3 poll.
Ash Grove coach Brent Milleson said the ending was similar to the Jan. 17 loss against Branson in the title game of the Bolivar Tournament. Late turnovers came back to haunt his squad in both contests.
“We did not value the ball like we had hoped,” Milleson said. “We made some turnovers and they were able to capitalize those into points. Once that happened, momentum really switched hands.
“It was like the Branson game because we turned the ball over in… odd (ways). That put our backs up against the wall. Once Strafford gained some momentum and got some confidence, they became really good. Give a lot of credit to them. They made the right plays at the right time.”
Trailing 36-28, Strafford amped up its defense as Ash Grove tried to eat up clock. A jumper from Larimer got Strafford within 39-36, then Strafford’s full-court press forced an Ash Grove turnover to get the ball back.
Larimer would follow with her game-tying 3-pointer.
“That (situation) has happened to me before, and I missed it,” Larimer said. “So when it went in, I was pretty happy.”
Ash Grove couldn’t convert on a close look at the basket on its ensuing possession. After the Lady Indians got the rebound, Alissa Rowden was fouled and made two free throws with 56 seconds remaining to put her team up 41-39.
Ash Grove then misfired on a jumper, and Strafford again denied the Lady Pirates a second chance at the basket. After Ash Grove’s pressure forced Strafford to call three straight timeouts, Morgan Graffis made one of two free throws (her only point of the night) to make it 42-39.
The Lady Pirates never got to attempt a game-tying 3-pointer as a turnover on their end of the floor gave the ball back to Strafford with less than 10 seconds remaining. Larimer sank two free throws to seal the win.
“Once a game becomes a one-possession contest, momentum is a big obstacle to overcome,” Milleson said. “We just weren’t able to do that tonight.”
Strafford trailed for most of the contest. Ash Grove’s zone defense made the Lady Indians’ offense complacent at times, said Strafford coach David Brewer.
“We got more aggressive against their zone,” Brewer said. “They were stretching (the zone) out and I thought we were doing a bad job of being aggressive against it. So I just told the girls, ‘Attack the basket.’ We didn’t really run anything specific; we just started dribble penetrating and created some opportunities offensively.”
Early on, Strafford had a hard time finishing at the basket due in large part to the shot blocking of Ash Grove junior Katie Skelton.
“Kids tend to get a little on their heels when that happens,” Brewer said. “I think that hurt us on being aggressive, because they were a little worried about getting their shots blocked.”
Ash Grove will host Mt. Vernon on Monday. Strafford (13-7) has won five in a row, including a 3-0 showing at the Mountain Grove Tournament last week. The Lady Indians travel to Pleasant Hope on Monday.
Strafford 44, Ash Grove 39
Ash Grove 14 7 7 11 --- 39
Strafford 9 8 11 16 --- 44
Ash Grove – Katie Skelton 15, Madi Johnson 13, Abby Arico 5, Jamie Mauss 4, Halee Cashio 1, Erin Weinreis 1
Strafford – Jenna Clements 14, Kaylee Larimer 9, Sarah Letterman 6, Alissa Rowden 6, Grace Bernskoetter 4, Megan Carrell 2, Amanda Rowden 2, Morgan Graffis 1