By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Coach Kevin Smith said the Crane Pirates always try to “get the right kids in the right spots.”
Friday night in Strafford, that meant junior guard Aric Spyers taking a 3-pointer from the left corner with the game on the line.
“We have great faith in Aric Spyers,” Smith said.
Spyers stepped up and buried the go-ahead trey with 12 seconds remaining. Crane survived Strafford’s potential game-winning 3 on the other end and escaped with a 56-54 win in a matchup of state-ranked teams.
Senior Brecken Vaught scored a team-high 17 for Crane, which improved to 13-4 overall.
“It’s tough to win here,” Smith said. “Strafford always plays well at home.”
Spyers’ 3-pointer came moments after Strafford’s JD Hunt had given the Indians a 54-53 lead on a drive to the basket.
Strafford, ranked No. 8 in the Class 3 state coaches’ poll, had a chance to win following Spyers’ trey. Logan Fraker’s 3-pointer rimmed out.
“Great look, just missed,” said Strafford coach Tyler Ryerson said. “Logan’s shot about 50 percent from the 3 over the last four games. He’s been playing really, really well.”
On the final possession, Smith said the Pirates wanted to keep the ball away from Strafford forward Seth Soden. He scored a game-high 21 and made five 3-pointers.
The ball found its way to Fraker, who pump faked a defender and got off a clean look from the top of the key as time expired.
“We wanted to take Soden out as best we could,” Smith said. “We were scrambling. We tried to make sure somebody else was shooting it, and that’s what happened. We’re just going to escape here, take (the win) and run with it.”
Credit the Indians for keeping the game close and having a chance to win at the end. Strafford had to rework its lineup and rotation with injured starters Vance Mullins and AK Rael unavailable.
“We preach ‘Next man up’ mentality,” Ryerson said. “We usually play seven kids, so some of them haven’t had a ton of opportunities. Our kids battled. I couldn’t be more proud of them. We had a chance to win against a really, really good basketball team.”
Crane (No. 2 in Class 2 poll) capitalized on Strafford’s shortage of ball-handlers. The Pirates converted steals into layups throughout the game.
“(Crane) does a great job of mixing up pressure defense packages,” Ryerson said. “Sometimes, they’ll run at you from the front. Sometimes, they’ll wait until you pass them and then swipe at it from behind. With our two main ball-handlers out, I knew we’d turn it over some.
“If we could limit those turnovers, then I think we’d have a chance to win. And we did, it just didn’t go in.”
Ryerson said he expects both Mullins and Rael to return to action soon.
“Both of them are… within a week or two of coming back,” Ryerson said. “We’re not quite sure yet, but we should have them back soon enough.”
Of note for Crane: senior guard Isaiah Smith inched closer to the program’s career assists record. He’ll likely break the nearly 30-year record in the Pirates’ next game. Smith is also on pace to set Crane’s single-season assists record.
Crane returns to action next Tuesday night at home against Clever.
The Class 2 Pirates have played a tough schedule thus far, facing quality big-school competition like East Newton, Republic, Bolivar and Webb City.
“We’re hoping those games prepare us for what we want to (achieve) in conference and districts,” Kevin Smith said.
Strafford competes in the Conway Invitational next week.
Crane 56, Strafford 54
Crane 12 18 15 11 — 56
Strafford 12 16 15 11 — 54
Crane (13-4 overall) – B. Vaught 17, Smith 12, Spyres 9, Calzaretta 8, A. Vaught 6, Steele 4,
Strafford (12-4 overall) – Soden 21, Fraker 14, Lawler 11, Hunt 5, Ames 2, Parks 1
Strafford JV Stafford 48, Crane JV 40