Strafford worked hard in the third quarter, which made the fourth of Saturday’s Class 3 quarterfinal much more enjoyable than the sectional battle with Mount Vernon three days earlier.

The Lady Indians turned a skin-tight game through two quarters with Southern Boone into a handy 56-37 win at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, securing in the process a fifth-straight Final Four berth. 

“We wanted this so bad,” Strafford senior Taylor Dormann said. “I feel like a lot of people didn’t really believe in us. I know our community did, but I don’t feel like a lot of people saw us as a successful team anymore. We proved ourselves in this game and by making it to state five years in a row.”

Deadlocked at 20 through the first half, the Lady Indians built a six-point lead inside the first few minutes of the third on a fast-break bucket by Logan Jones, followed by a post-up from Dormann and two Jones’ free throws. Up to that point, neither team had been able to find as much separation on the scoreboard.

“This time of year, you’re just taking it possession by possession, and we were doing a good job of attacking, trying to make them guard us every time,” Strafford head coach Dustin Larsen said. “At the same time, our kids were making them earn everything they got.”

Southern Boone responded with two baskets, but senior Mica Chadwell answered back with a three-point play, and then sophomore Emma Mullings crashed the paint off a mid-range miss by a teammate and laid it in uncontested, the beginnings of an eventual 11-2 run. 

The Eagles led off the fourth quarter on a bucket by sophomore Jersee Wren to make it a nine-point contest, and then the Lady Indians (28-3) resumed where they’d left off at the end of the third. A second-chance basket by Chadwell and a driving layup by Mullings drove a further wedge in the gap, and Dormann delivered a dagger of a 3-pointer with under four minutes left that made it a 16-point affair. 

“Yeah, it felt big, felt good,” Dormann said. “[Earlier in the half] I didn’t really notice the score at all, I was just playing in the moment and getting excited for my teammates no matter what was happening.”

The Lady Indians led 9-6 after the opening period over the Eagles, the 11th 20-win opponent of the season for Strafford who exhibited an up-and-down style and came in averaging 56.2 points.

“They like to play fast and are a physical team, and we like to get up-and-down, but we both had a little problem scoring in the first half and I thought we did a good job of staying with it and playing together,” Larsen said. 

Jones scored all but two of her team-high 15 points in the second half for Strafford, who made 17-of-24 free-throw attempts. Sophomore guard Emma Compton had 11, followed by nine each from Chadwell and Mullings. 

Though maybe not ideal, it was still a better opening half for Strafford than in last Wednesday’s 49-40 win over Mount Vernon in Willard. Lady Mountaineers junior Ellie Johnston sank an improbable half-court buzzer-beater at the end of the first quarter, then Lacy Stokes and Mount Vernon got hot from outside and doubled up Strafford 20-10 midway into the second. 

Down by four at the break, Strafford then strapped in defensively and held Mount Vernon scoreless in the third quarter. The Lady Mountaineers’ dry spell from outside in the half continued with 1-of-7 shooting on 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter, and they didn’t regain it until time was on the side of the Lady Indians, who were led by 12 from Compton and 10 by Chadwell. 

All four remaining Class 3 teams headed for JQH Arena in Springfield were included in the last top 10 MBCA poll on Feb. 20. The Lady Indians, ranked second, will meet the No. 1 team, Whitfield (26-5), in one semifinal Thursday at 12:50 p.m. No. 8 Licking and No. 10 Macon will precede them, with the winners facing off Friday at 2:40 p.m. Strafford is seeking its fifth consecutive state championship. 

Bryan can be followed on Twitter @BryanEversonMF.

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