SPRINGFIELD –– Strafford topped a familiar postseason opponent in its quest for another piece of history.
The Lady Indians were deadly from the perimeter in Friday afternoon’s 67-49 victory over Whitfield, and will play for the Class 3 state title Saturday against Licking at JQH Arena.
No Missouri high school girls basketball program has won five state titles, let alone five in a row, as Strafford could with one more victory.
Both teams started cold, scoreless in the game's first two minutes, and Strafford didn't lead until Mica Chadwell's free throw almost four minutes in. The Lady Indians eventually caught fire from beyond the arc, though. Emma Mullings hit a triple with 1:01 left in the first quarter, and Emma Compton drained one from the college three-point line just before the horn to make it 14-10.
Only a handful of points separated the teams nearly three minutes into the second, but Strafford used that outside touch and trademark defense that resulted in forced turnovers to finish the half on a 14-2 run.
“You could look at that nine-minute segment and argue that was the difference in the game,” Whitfield head coach Michael Slater said. “The first six or seven minutes we were going back and forth and no one could really score. Who’s going to blink first? It was really back and forth until that shot at the buzzer and it got away from us.”
The Warriors came in shooting slightly better from deep on the season –– 34.7%, two percent better –– but that advantage was nowhere to be found Friday. After shooting 50 percent (7 of 14) on 3-pointers in the first half, Strafford replicated that ratio in the second half, though the reigning champions needed only six three-point attempts then with the lead in-hand.
Whitfield did manage a late third-period spurt, getting as close as 12 points on a jumper by leading scorer Kelsey Blakemore with 1:32 left, but Strafford regrouped from a timeout with a layup by Mullings and short jumper by Chadwell before the start of the fourth.
Taylor Treat was the only Strafford starter not to hit double figures, but her 3-pointer unofficially put the game to bed by upping the lead to 18 with 4:08 remaining.
Compton finished with a game-high 18 points, followed by 14 from Logan Jones, 12 from Taylor Dormann and 11 by Chadwell.
In addition to an 88-45 regular season win last year, the Lady Indians defeated Whitfield 83-37 for their second championship, then 67-50 in the semifinals the next year.
Echoing the sentiment her teammates have shared throughout this year’s run, Dormann said that “this one just hits a little bit different.”
“I think it would mean a lot for us [considering] we didn’t really play a lot together last year,” the Strafford senior forward said. “New roles were stepped into, new coach. It’s more meaningful [being] a new team.”
It will be the first for Lady Indians head coach Dustin Larsen. “We always understand the past you know, you appreciate it,” he said. “We want to uphold the tradition of Strafford basketball to the highest level with the way we carry ourselves on the floor. This group continues to show that with the way they grew from the start.”
Saturday's Class 3 state final will be a rematch with Licking of a 45-35 Lady Indians win in Strafford on Jan. 11. Strafford also ended the Lady Wildcats season in 2018 with an 85-40 victory. Licking defeated Macon 43-33 in the other semifinal Friday morning.