By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
In a season already loaded with memories, Strafford added several more Saturday night.
Take your pick:
• The Indians winning a third straight state title, this time by 41 points.
• Strafford coach Steve Frank winning his 500th career game.
• Sisters Hayley Frank (22 points on 9-for-10 shooting) and Kayley Frank (20 points on 9-for-10 shooting) posting eerily similar stat lines.
• Nearly flawless basketball, with the Indians shooting 30-for-52 from the field and dishing out 22 assists.
• Strafford extending its winning streak to 82 games, and sending its only two seniors (Zoey Mullings, Alissa Collette) out with another championship ring.
“Very special,” Steve Frank said. “We have a very special group of kids.”
The Indians rolled past California 77-36 in the Class 3 title game at JQH Arena.
Afterwards, several hundred Strafford fans held up individual pieces of paper that displayed the number 500, in honor of the coaching milestone.
“That caught me off-guard and by surprise,” said Steve Frank, who also received a commemorative plaque from his players after the postgame press conference. “It’s very special. That speaks volumes for our community, our school and everyone in it.
“That’s a big part of all of our programs at Strafford – the success goes way deeper than the team. The success goes all the way into the community, the parents, the administration.”
Added Hayley Frank: “Growing up, going to all of (Steve Frank’s) games at Seymour and all the places he coached, it was always our dream. I think, right now, we’ve exceeded the dream. But, we’re still not satisfied.”
Strafford had its typical scoring balance. Six players scored at least five points. The Indians only committed seven turnovers and made 8 of 17 3-point attempts.
“That’s a tribute to no selfishness on our team at all,” Steve Frank said.
Maddie Chittenden added 17 points and limited California’s top scorer, Elizabeth Lutz (20.7 ppg), to nine points on 4-for-10 shooting.
Chittenden, a transfer from Springfield Catholic, became Catholic’s defensive specialist this season. She typically drew the defensive assignment against the opposing team’s best scorer.
“I got so emotional afterwards because we all put in so much hard work throughout the whole season,” said Chittenden, a junior. “I knew coming in that this team works harder than any other team I’ve been on. I knew coming in that I had to work just that hard. I think it really paid off.”
Strafford walloped California with a 17-0 run to begin the second half. Chittenden’s layup, off one of seven Hayley Frank assists, gave Strafford a 58-26 lead.
California never recovered.
“At halftime, it was just like, ‘We can’t let up,’” Hayley Frank said. “It was big that we came out and made a statement early and not give them any momentum.”
Hayley Frank’s confidence level was beaming throughout the game.
During one sequence, she made a behind-the-back pass to teammate Mica Chadwell for a layup. Later, in the open court, Hayley Frank crossed up a defender with a behind-the-back dribble before finding Kayley Frank for a 3-pointer from the corner.
“I kind of live for the big moment like that. That’s what I’ve worked for,” Hayley Frank said. “The cool part was, I’ve made a couple of those passes and I think that’s the first one where we’ve actually made the layup.”
Added Kyndall Compton: “Usually we’re like: ‘Oh! Oh!’ And then we miss (the layup) after (the pass). But we finally made it.”
California hung with Strafford for about a quarter and a half. The Pintos shot 10-for-22 from the field in the first half, but only 4-for-23 after halftime.
“We knew a lot of things would have to fall our way for us to have success tonight,” said California coach Bobby Sangster. “When their shots kept falling and our shots did not, it got very, very difficult to continue to look to find success.”
Steve Frank admitted he had some pregame nerves. He saw a lot of similarities in Strafford’s 2016 state title team and the 2018 Pintos.
“I told California’s coach: ‘Your team is exactly where we were two years ago.’ I’ve been more nervous about this game than any game,” Steve Frank said. “They shoot the ball well. Teams like that, if they get hot, it could be a long night.”
With its 4.5 month-long basketball season concluded, much of Strafford’s team will hit the softball diamond next week.
The Indians are also Missouri’s defending spring softball state champions.
“I kept thinking about (this game tonight), then I told myself, ‘No, I can’t think about it because then I’ll get emotional and stuff and no one likes to be emotional,’” said Strafford senior Zoey Mullings. “It’s really special and I hope to continue this through (softball).”
Strafford 77, California 36
Strafford 19 22 24 12 — 77
California 12 14 5 5 — 36
Strafford – Hayley Frank 22, Kayley Frank 20, Madison Chittenden 17, Kyndall Compton 7, Zoey Mullings 6, Mica Chadwell 5
California – Tristian Porter 12, Elizabeth Lutz 9, Gracie George 8, Hailey Cain 2, Halle Oliver 2, Paige Lamm 2, Brittney Ellington 1