By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Emma Mullings thought it was going in.
Macie Mays could only watch and pray for a miss.
The whole sequence felt like a blur to Beau Swopes.
In an ending that suited the top two-ranked teams in Class 3, El Dorado Springs survived a potential game-winning 3-pointer by Strafford in the final seconds to prevail 46-44 on Thursday afternoon in the Show-Me Showdown semifinals at JQH Arena.
“These girls have put in the work, despite so many heartbreaks over the past few years,” said Swopes, El Dorado Springs’s head coach. “Last year, that shot goes in. The year before, that shot goes in.
“Until the ball hit the front of the rim, I don’t know what was going on really. When it missed, I was just hoping that was it.”
Said Mays: “I was just praying to God it wouldn’t go in.”
El Dorado Springs led 46-44 with nine seconds left but missed a pair of free throws, setting the stage for a thrilling finish.
Strafford quickly pushed the ball up court and into the hands of point guard Emma Compton. She drove down the middle of the lane and found teammate Emma Mullings open in the right corner.
Mullings, who ranks second on Strafford in 3-pointers made this season with 40, fired away.
“I honestly thought it was (going in),” Mullings said. “Emma (Compton) made a great pass to me and I had full confidence. But some shots don’t fall.”
The shot missed off the front rim and time expired. El Dorado Springs rushed to mid-court in celebration.
“You feel bad for the kid at that moment because they laid everything out there,” Swopes said. “At the same time, you’re so excited for all the kids on your team and your coaches and community.”
Lady Bulldogs senior forward Reese Schaaf led all players with 19 points and 17 rebounds.
El Dorado Springs will play South Shelby on Friday in the Class 3 state championship game. Game time is set for 2 p.m. at JQH Arena in Springfield.
South Shelby beat West County 45-31 in the other Class 3 semifinal game on Thursday.
El Dorado Springs (28-3 overall, No. 1-ranked in Class 3) hasn’t been this far since winning its first – and only – state championship in 2014.
“I was talking to my former assistant coach last night and we talked about that 2014 team and he goes, ‘Oh, you just go out there and play like you did last time,’” Swopes said. “I feel like this one has more pressure because now we know what it’s like.
“For most of the girls on our team, you can go back and find pictures of them in 4th and 5th grade and see how much it mean to them. They’ve dreamed of doing this.”
Macie Mays, whose older sister played on the 2014 team, called this weekend a “dream come true.”
“You work for this your whole life. To get here is very surreal and amazing,” she said.
Strafford coach Dustin Larsen said the Lady Indians were looking to take the best shot they could get on the final possession, whether it was inside or outside the 3-point arc.
“We were going to run a special set for a 3,” Larsen said. “Off that set, you can either take a 3 or attack the basket. We didn’t get the early look but we still had a great shot.
“I was super proud of Mullings for being ready to take that shot.”
Thursday’s semifinals became a battle of rebounding vs. 3-pointers.
The Lady Bulldogs had a 37-24 advantage in rebounds, including 13 on the offensive end. Schaaf accounted for eight of them.
“They’re just super long,” Larsen said of EDS. “Maybe we didn’t have quite enough position, but they’re tough on the boards.”
Rebounds were key down the stretch as El Dorado Springs capitalized on its own missed free throws for second-chance points. The Lady Bulldogs were 11-for-18 at the line overall and just 3-for-20 on 3-point attempts.
“I don’t know how many times this year we’ve grabbed an offensive rebound on a missed free throw and ended up scoring,” Swopes said. “As long as we’re capable of doing it, it’ll be a big part of our plan.”
Strafford shot 10-for-26 from 3-point range. Junior guard Laney Humble led Strafford with 18 points; she shot 5-for-9 from 3.
Lauren Jones, who scored eight, made a 3-pointer to bring Strafford within 46-44 with 16 seconds remaining.
Compton gutted through an in-game injury to her right shoulder.
“I didn’t hear it pop out, but as soon as it happened, I knew something was wrong,” she said. “I just moved it around and it finally popped back into place.”
In a regular season meeting on Jan. 31, El Dorado Springs won 61-59 at Strafford. Neither team led by more than six points in the rematch.
Thursday’s outcome marks Strafford’s first-ever loss at the Show-Me Showdown. The Lady Indians had gone 10-0 and won five state championships since their inaugural final four appearance in 2016.
Strafford will play West County (24-5 overall) on Friday for 3rd place. Tip-off is set for 10 a.m. at Hammons Student Center.
El Dorado Springs 46, Strafford 44
Strafford 11 12 7 14 — 44
El Dorado Springs 10 13 13 10 — 46
Strafford (24-6 overall) – Laney Humble 18, Mattie Walker 9, Lauren Jones 8, Emma Mullings 6, Bailey Chrisman 3
El Dorado Springs (28-3 overall) – Reese Schaaf 19, Macie Mays 15, Tevi Gurley 5, Tenlie Steward 4, Wriley Taylor 2, Neely Schaaf 1