The Ash Grove High School boys’ basketball team proved this week it could be a factor in the Mid-Lakes Conference championship race.
But the Strafford Indians are still the team to beat.
Strafford rolled to a 71-37 victory Saturday against Ash Grove in the final of the Strafford Invitational, reclaiming the title after Fair Grove earned it last year.
“We played really good defense and everybody has been crashing the boards like we’ve been taught to,” said Strafford junior Jacob Wade, who scored a game-high 17 points and had eight rebounds. “One of our goals this year was to win our tournament and get a good seed in the Blue and Gold.”
That’s a focus and reality for the Indians (3-0), who are trying to convince the seeding committee for the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament that they deserve a high seed. That could set up a possible run in the Dec. 26-29 event for the Class 3 Indians against larger schools.
“We’d like to play four (games),” said Wade, the number of wins needed for the title. “That’s what our goal is.”
Two years removed from a state runner-up finish, coach Mike Wilson’s Indians have reloaded with quality athletes.
Eight sophomores play on the varsity and three started Saturday.
“They’ve played together since they were little and know how each other plays,” Wade said. “They’ve grown a lot (physically), and are thicker.”
Four Strafford sophomores combined for 34 points on Saturday.
Ash Grove coach Jeremy Nicholson said his team improved over Thanksgiving after dropping its opener to Crane. The Pirates (2-2) earned victories this week against Southwest and Fair Grove.
But Nicholson was not proud of the Pirates’ effort in the final.
“We just didn’t compete,” said Nicholson, a former Missouri State player and all-stater at Ash Grove. “All of our kids know that’s the number one goal in our program, and when we don’t do it, we’re not very good.
“If you don’t play this game with a little pride with the town on your jersey, then you don’t deserve to be out there.”
Strafford closed the first half with a 14-2 run to go up 34-14. Active defense was a key, along with aggressive rebounding. The Indians out-rebounded Ash Grove 8-1 on the offensive glass in the first half.
“But we’re real athletic,” Wilson said. “We do some things that other people can’t do — on our level especially. When we get under control and go fast, I think we’re going to be fun to watch.”
Both teams return to action Tuesday, as Strafford plays at Hollister and Ash Grove is at Lockwood.
“We can’t deal with any X’s and O’s unless we’re going to compete,” Nicholson said. “We just have to go back to square one.”