Both Strafford and Crane went to state two years ago with veteran high school boys’ basketball teams.
And if either of the current groups are able to get back to Columbia, games like Friday’s non-league matchup might help spark the run.
The teams came in unbeaten in nine games between them, but only Strafford left the court still perfect after a 59-49 home victory, handing former Missouri State standout Dale Lamberth his first coaching loss.
The Crane coach said it’s medicine his 5-1 Pirates needed, though.
“Our early-season success has led us to believe that we’re doing better and playing better than we were,” said Lamberth. “We have to learn to handle pressure better and to handle close-game situations a little better.”
Strafford trailed 8-2 early but took control with an 11-0 run that grabbed the lead until the fourth.
The Pirates trailed by as many as 10 points in the third quarter, but clawed back to a 45-45 tie with 5 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the fourth.
That’s when a couple difference-making plays by Strafford’s Jacob Wade regained control for coach Mike Wilson’s Indians.
Wade knocked down a 3-pointer to regain the lead and scored eight of his team’s points in a 10-0 run that put the Pirates away.
“Jacob Wade was the dagger,” Lamberth said. “When he hit that big 3, our guys kind of looked at each and said, ‘What else can we do?’ He hadn’t made one all game.
“But the scouting report said he was capable. He made a big shot, they went to the zone with the lead, and that left us stagnant for a while.”
Wilson said Wade struggled early, and Wade admitted he had problems all night defensively against Crane’s Jordan Bowling, who scored a game-high 23 points and had six rebounds.
“He’s a very good player,” Wade said. “He can shoot it, and he can put it on the floor. I’m not a very good defender, so he took advantage of that tonight, because he’s a good player.”
Crane won the Class 2 state title on the same March 2011 day Strafford fell in the Class 3 final at Mizzou Arena. Both teams were young last year but look primed for strong years this season.
Strafford (5-0) has the potential to get back to state in the next few years, with eight sophomores on varsity along with Wade, a junior.
“If you let good teams hang around, then they believe they can beat you,” Wilson said. “We just have to get better every game. And in the fourth quarter, I think we did.”
Crane’s plight is more immediate as Lamberth has a senior-led team. Plus, the Pirates play in the same league and district as Billings, the defending state champion and Missouri’s top-ranked Class 2 team in the coaches’ poll.
“(Crane is) a very good Class 2 ball team, and will win a lot of games and possibly make a Final Four showing,” Wade said.
Crane plays Monday at Reeds Spring, and Strafford plays host today to Marshfield.
Crane and Strafford are playing in the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament after Christmas and could be tough draws for larger schools, a role Strafford has played dutifully in the past.
“We hope we get a high seed,” said senior Blake Alexander, who scored six points, “and keep the Strafford tradition going with the Blue and Gold.”