Pink and White 2021: Strafford returns to the top with White Division win over West Plains

Springfield News-Leader
Springfield News-Leader

There’s no perfect blueprint for winning tight games in the imperfect world of high school basketball.

But, Strafford certainly engineered a ferocious, championship-style model on Thursday afternoon.

The smaller and quicker Lady Indians pestered West Plains until they had pulled out a 45-43 victory in the White Division title game of the 10th annual Pink & White Classic at O’Reilly Family Event Center.

Simply put, said Strafford’s leading pest Emma Compton, “Defense is the key. We knew it would be hard, that we had to step up the whole game.”

The Lady Indians rose to 10-1 by contesting every dribble and pass, by constantly poking and prodding for steals, by testing the limits of what constitutes a foul.

They kept the score close until a winning last-quarter rally that was punctuated by timely 3-point shots and free throws.

The third-seeded Lady Indians stopped the defending champion Lady Zizzers despite scoring only two points in the third quarter and trailing 32-24 entering the final quarter.

They did it by keeping the ball out of the hands of 6-foot senior Ashton Judd – an elite player in Missouri – with constant defensive pressure on the perimeter and by collapsing around her with double and triple coverage to deny drives to the basket.

Judd led West Plains to the White title last year with a 26-point, 16-rebound performance in a three-overtime thriller over Nixa.

She also helped lead fifth-seeded West Plains back into this title game with a comeback win over top-seeded Georgetown (Texas) on Wednesday night.

Judd scored eight points as the Lady Zizzers led 15-11 after one quarter, but was frustrated in the second, including missing a lay-up with 3 seconds left.

West Plains led 23-22 at halftime.

“It was a battle the whole game. I have so much respect for that program,” said Strafford coach Dustin Larsen. “We took it as a challenge as a team to (slow) a player at that level. She has size and is so agile.”

West Plains coach Scott Wommack said his team didn’t handle the Strafford pressure well and missed too many opportunities to build a bigger lead. “We had way too many turnovers and missed six layups in the first half,” he said. “They (officials) let them play physical and it kept getting more physical. Strafford did a good job of getting us out of our offensive sets.”

Judd earned game-highs of 15 points and 13 rebounds, but she also got a bloody chin and went long stretches without a clean touch on the ball.

“We take pride in our defense. We have always held that close,” said Compton, a 5-foot-4 senior who also can drive to the basket and swish timely 3-point shots.

She led Strafford with 12 points, including a trey for the Lady Indians' first lead – at 36-34 – with 3:36 left in the game.

“She has that extra gear,” Wommack said. “She made the big shot. She is a great leader.”

Compton also made seven steals and poked the ball away from West Plains dribblers at least that many times.

Her teammates found success, too, with their pressure and treys. Junior Laney Humble and sophomore Lauren Jones had three treys and 11 points apiece.

A 3-pointer by Humble and a free throw by Jones gave Strafford its largest lead at 40-34. Judd then pulled the Lady Zizzers to 42-40 with a putback with 59 seconds left.

After a free throw by Compton and two by Emma Mullings for a 45-40 lead, Judd cut the lead to two again with a twisting layup and free throw.

West Plains got the ball back, but couldn’t work the ball into a scoring position. Humble then stole a pass with 2 seconds left to seal the win for Strafford.

Sophomores Olivia Lawson and Alyssa Joyner scored eight apiece for the Zizzers, who are 10-2.

Wommack said he is proud of the way the Lady Zizzers played in the tournament – including making the championship game for the third year in a row: “They played four tough games. These are the types of games that we can learn from, that will make us better.”

Compton said Strafford can use the victory to push forward, too. She said Strafford never tires of winning Pink & White and state championships. “It’s been a fun ride all these years,” she said.

“I think we are building. A lot of players are stepping up. So many have different strengths.”

Strafford has built a strong legacy, Larsen said, because the older players are always "giving that example how to win. Everyone wants to win the hardware (trophies), but playing hard and growing is the most important thing."

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