By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
BOLIVAR – The Strafford Lady Indians are back in familiar territory – back in the final four.
The Lady Indians broke the Class 3 quarterfinal open late in the fourth quarter Saturday night to defeat the Licking Lady Wildcats 51-43 at Southwest Baptist University.
Strafford, which won five-straight state championships from 2016-2020 (including three-straight undefeated seasons), took a year hiatus from the state semifinals with a loss to Steelville in the sectional round in 2021.
And you can believe the Lady Indians are happy to be back.
“It’s exciting, but I know it takes a lot of work and we’re not done yet,” senior point guard Emma Compton said, especially after missing it in 2021. “It was hard last year, but I think that made us want it even more this year.”
The Lady Indians, who improved to 24-5 overall, trailed Licking by one at halftime and most of the third quarter. After a Compton jumper pulled Strafford within two (32-30) with just under a minute to go, Compton found Emma Mullings at the top of the key and Mullings buried a 3-pointer to give Strafford a 33-32 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Laney Humble hit a 3 early in the fourth to extend the lead, but Licking didn’t go away easily. The Lady Wildcats knocked down some free throws around a baseline jumper from Hannah Medlock to pull within two (41-39) with 1:45 to go, but that’s as close as they would get the rest of the way.
“Our kids are just so resilient, it just showed the heart and drive,” Strafford coach Dustin Larsen said. “They just keep growing, growing as one and focusing and competing, and even believing. Not everything is going to go your way. And of course, that team’s competing, they’re trying to move on as well as anyone. So, you’ve got to just take what punches they throw, and you’ve got to adjust and play.
“Our shots weren’t falling. We knew with time it was going to fall and we’d find a way. We just had to be patient.”
Licking had the size advantage over Strafford, but the Lady Indians still were able to get shots off and score against the Lady Wildcats. Plus, it helped having 5-foot-11 senior forward Mattie Walker back from injury.
“We knew we were going to have to have good movement and, hopefully, get them in small and closeouts and get them running at us,” Larsen said. “We thought we could attack them at times but also we moved the ball well. We had space we need to be ready to shoot. Mattie made us better through that course. You never want to have someone out, but it just shows how important each link of the team is, and to get her back and for her to be a senior and go do this… I’m just so proud of the growth of her and this team.”
Compton led all scorers with 23 points, as well as picking up four steals, and Laney Humble added 16 for the Lady Indians.
Licking, which fell to 23-5, was led by sophomore Hannah Medlock’s 14 points. With about 3:33 to go in the third quarter, the Lady Wildcats lost senior point guard Kylie Taylor to an injury from which she did not return.
Coach Steve Rissler said he hopes his team will use this loss as motivation for next year.
“There were just a few things that didn’t go our way late in the game,” Rissler said. “We’ll return a lot of the kids that played tonight. The way that they feel after that game, they feel like someone was taken from them. So, I hope they just keep a fire in their stomach and hopefully, they remember what it feels like, and we use that in the offseason.”
Strafford will face El Dorado Springs in the semifinals on Thursday, a team it lost to by two points earlier this season.
STRAFFORD 51, LICKING 43
Class 3 quarterfinal game
LICKING (24-5) – Kiley Ingram 7, Kylie Taylor 6, Hannah Medlock 14, Abbie Sullins 2, Kaida Cook 7, Allie Hock 5, Zoe Dawson 2.
STRAFFORD (24-5) – Emma Compton 23, Lauren Jones 5, Laney Humble 16, Emma Mullings 3, Mattie Walker 4.
Up next: Class 3 semifinals – Strafford vs. El Dorado Springs, 2 p.m., March 10 at JQH Arena, Missouri State University