In winning their first state tournament game in school history Wednesday night, the Steelville High School Lady Cardinals also put an end to one of the finest runs in Missouri history, knocking off five-time defending champions Strafford Indians. Now, the Lady Cards are just one win away from the Class 3 Final Four.
After winning dual district championships for the first time in history last week, the SHS boys and girls basketball teams got to host their opening-round games in the state tournament this week. The boys lost their first-round game to Hartville on Tuesday, but the girls came away with a big upset win over Strafford on Wednesday.
The Lady Cardinals ended the Indians 37-game state playoff winning streak and stopped Strafford from earning a sixth straight Class 3 championship. The Indians won the 2020 title over Licking just before the pandemic shut down all state sports after having defeated Lutheran North for the title in 2019, California in 2018, Whitfield in 2017, and Saxony Lutheran in 2016. During that run, the Indians had outscored their championship opponents 336 to 234.
Wednesday’s game was low-scoring affair, at least through the first three quarters. The Steelville defense held Strafford to just four points in the first quarter and only 11 in the first half. The Lady Cardinals also scored four points in the opening quarter, but then began to take control of the game in the second quarter when they scored 12 points to lead 16-11 at the break.
The SHS girls widened the gap in the third quarter, outscoring the Indians 17-10, to take a 33-21 lead into the fourth quarter. The game then opened up a bit offensively in the final eight minutes.
“I was just very proud of how we executed, particularly on the defensive end,” said Head Coach Seth Collins. “We knew things would be tough offensively at times for us. Strafford does a good job of pressuring the ball. We displayed a lot of toughness. It's easy for a team to quit when things aren't going well. We hung tough and competed every possession.”
Strafford came out hot to start the fourth and cut the lead to just three points. The Lady Cardinals rallied, however, and hit some big free-throw shots down the stretch to win the game by nine points, 50-41. For the game, the Steelville girls made 19 of 25 free-throws, while Strafford shot just four, making all of them. In contract, Steelville made just one three-point shot, while Strafford hit seven.
“We didn't take a possession off on the defensive side. Our rotations were impressive,” Collins said. “We knew Strafford wouldn't have any quit in them. They've been there before. It wasn't a surprise to see them come out and get some stops and hit big shots in the fourth. I was glad we were able to ride that wave and maintain the lead. We shot really well from the line in the fourth to put it away when they had to foul. We look forward to the opportunity to keep playing.”
Sydney Booker led the Lady Cards and all scorers with 22 points, while Naomi Perkins scored 14. Alyssa Church added and Tobi Pennock and Lauren Davis each had four.
The victory improved the Lady Cardinals’ season record to 22-6, while the Indians fell to 21-7. The win also advanced the Lady Cards into the quarterfinals, where they will take on Miller at 1 p.m. Saturday at Willard High School, which is located at 515 Jackson Street in Willard. Miller enters the game with a record of 28-1.
If the Lady Cardinals win on Saturday, that will advance into the final four against either Twin Rivers or Lift for Life Academy in a game that is scheduled to be played at 6 p.m. on March 12 at Hammonds Student Center at Missouri State University in Springfield.
Coming into the boys’ game against Hartville, it was clear the Cardinals would have their hands filled. The Eagles were 27-0 and were the defending Class 2 state champions with a ton of returning talent, and it didn’t take long for them to take control of the game.
Hartville roared out to a quick 8-0 lead after making four straight fast-break layups. The Cardinals rallied to make it 10-7 midway through the first quarter but trailed the Eagles 25-10 at the end of the first eight minutes. After that, it was all Hartville.
The Eagles led by 30 points, 47-17, at the half and were up 74-36 at the end of the third quarter. Hartville went on to win 84-49.
“The team we faced was an exceptional team, probably one of the best if not the best team that Steelville has ever played,” said Head Coach John Tolly. “This group of guys gave this community a lot of excitement this season and they were an honor and a joy to coach.”
Seniors Mason Lorraine and Chase Cottrell led the Cardinals in their final game with 11 point each. Johnny Brice scored nine, Landon Mabe eight, Conner Diaz six, and Preston Lefler four.
“I was very proud of the way our boys played,” Tolly said. “Obviously you would like to see more shots fall and there are some things we could have done better, but I thought the boys played their hearts out and gave 110 percent the entire game.”
The Cardinals finished the season with a record of 20-7, while Hartville advanced to the quarterfinals. They will take on Greenwood, 20-5, at 6 p.m. Friday at Baptist Bible College in Springfield.