Instead of hitting the panic button, Strafford coach Mike Wilson tried to preach optimism to his top-seeded team at halftime of Saturday night’s Class 3, District 11 title game.
The Indians played a forgettable first half, one in which Wilson said it seemed like his squad struggled to “play the game of basketball.”
Yet, when he looked at the scoreboard, it read 26-26.
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"We didn't guard well, we didn't shoot the ball well, we didn't run any offense... we didn't do a whole lot of things," Wilson said of the first half. "The last thing we talked about, it was tied. We didn't play very good the whole half, and we came out fortunate to be tied. I felt a lot better about our chances in the second half."
The Indians came out in the second half relaxed, focused and much more efficient, taking a quick lead and holding off Fair Grove 65-56 at Hollister High School for their third straight district title.
Strafford will play Seneca in a Class 3 sectionals game at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Baptist Bible College in Springfield. Seneca beat Mt. Vernon 51-47 in overtime on Saturday night in the District 12 finals.
Jacob Wade put up a monster game for Strafford, finishing with game-highs of 22 points and 18 rebounds. Wade was the only Strafford player to hit double figures, although eight other Indians registered points.
“That’s just a Mike Wilson team,” said Fair Grove coach Tim Brown. “They’ve got tough kids and they’re athletic. They’ve got great bodies and great athletes; they were more athletic than us at just about every position on the floor. We had to try a lot harder than they did just to be able to compete because of their athleticism. They play hard.
“We were still able to make it a competitive game and had a chance to win. I’m very proud of my team.”
Strafford started the second half on a 13-2 run. Fair Grove scored eight straight to make it 39-36, but Strafford was able to take a six-point lead into the fourth quarter when Grant Boswell hit a trey in the final seconds of the third.
The Eagles were never able to make it a one-possession game in the final five minutes.
Fair Grove got two free throws from Michael Thomas to cut Strafford’s lead to 55-51 with 4:50 remaining. The Indians scored two quick baskets to add some more cushion and hit their free throws down the stretch to clinch the victory.
Strafford 65, Fair Grove 56
Fair Grove 14 12 16 14 --- 56
Strafford 12 14 22 17 --- 65
Fair Grove – Deric Link 17, Michael Thomas 15, Kyle Cavenaugh 9, Jayden Happel 7, Talon Bates 4, Brock Derrick 4
Strafford – Jacob Wade 22, Blake Alexander 9, Grant Boswell 9, Kyle Foley 7, Brady Collier 6, Zach Stow 5, Dallas Hester 3, Brandon Foley 2, Dylan Edwards 2