Basketball

Strafford to dance for second basketball state title

Strafford’s Hayley Frank may be worthy of a new nickname: blackjack.

The Strafford High School girls basketball team huddles together moments before a 2017 Class 3 playoff semifinal game against Lutheran North at the Hearnes Center in Columbia.

The Strafford High School girls basketball team huddles together moments before a 2017 Class 3 playoff semifinal game against Lutheran North at the Hearnes Center in Columbia.

The 6-foot-1 sophomore scored 21 points and pulled down 21 rebounds in Strafford’s 80-47 defeat of Lutheran North in the Class 3 girls basketball playoff semifinals Thursday at Hearnes Center in Columbia. Strafford (32-0) will attempt to win back-to-back state championships on Saturday.

Perhaps Frank’s most astonishing play of the game came during a dead ball. When a Lutheran North player’s shot resulted in the ball being wedged between the rim and the backboard, Frank jumped to the rim and dislodged the ball as a Lutheran North student section reacted with stunned silence.

“I remember last summer, I figured out I could do it,” Frank said of her leap to the rim. “I’ve never got to do that in a game.”

Frank wasn’t the only Strafford player to put up big numbers. Four players from the defending state champs scored in double digits in the semifinal. Zoey Mullings led the way with 23 points, College of the Ozarks signee Abby Oliver scored 22, and Kayley Frank had 12 points.

“If one person is hitting, then that just opens up for everyone else. You can’t come out and key on one person on this team, because the others are just going to kill you,” Hayley Frank said.

Mullings was 10-of-15 from the field and had a double-double of her own with 11 rebounds.

“When I start hitting stuff, they start cheating to me, and then it makes Abby and Hayley so much more open,” Mullings said. “When they’re on me, I just try to go rebound and get my points off boards and hustle plays.”

Coach Steve Frank, father of non-identical twins Hayley and Kayley, was proud of his team’s display of balance.

“When you’ve got four kids that can step up in double figures and play as a unit as we do, that they’re kind of thinking, ‘Oh, my, who are we going to stop? What are we going to do?’” Frank said.

Strafford led 15-4 in the first four minutes of the game and continued to build a lead on the Crusaders.

“We talked before the game that the first three or four minutes was the key,” Frank said. “We felt like we could get (Lutheran North) on their heels and we’ll have them second guessing, ‘Hey, I don’t know if we can hang with this team or not.’”

Strafford will play the Class 3 championship game against Whitfield, which defeated Trenton 53-41 to advance to the state final. The title game takes place Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Mizzou Arena.

Steve Frank admits to feeling more tension during this year’s playoff run compared to the campaign of 2016. He said he has been more demanding of the players because a championship is what’s expected of them.

“I can’t wait until the season is over so I can be nice to them again,” Frank said.

Hayley Frank agreed that her dad has been tough at times, especially in the preseason and in December.

“The beginning of the year was the worst, but it’s because he loves us and wants us to be the best we can be,” Hayley Frank said of her dad. “He knew that everyone wanted to beat us.”

High school girls basketball Class 3 semifinal

Strafford 80, Lutheran North 47

At Hearnes Center, Columbia

Strafford 22-19-18-21—80

Lutheran North 8-18-15-6—47

Individual scoring

Strafford—Zoey Mullings 23, Abby Oliver 22, Hayley Frank 21, Kayley Frank 12, Logan Jones 2

Lutheran North—Madison Buford 24, Jordyn White 13, Sydney Dukes 3, Heaven Davis 3, Kaylynn Hayden 2, Raevyn Ferguson 2.