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Lady Trojans fall six minutes short of what proves to be elusive upset of Strafford


Looking back on the upset of Strafford that ultimately wasn’t for Sparta, the Lady Trojans didn’t accept an adversary they had worked more than 20 minutes to seemingly embrace.

Time was on Sparta’s side and suddenly it wasn’t.

The Lady Trojans had an an 11-point lead slip away in their 48-45 setback to six-time defending Class 3 District 11 champion Strafford Tuesday in a semifinal that will live in infamy in basketball-crazy Sparta.

Time stood still at times during the Lady Indians’ rally, as they went to the free-throw line for eight freebies in the fourth quarter. On two Sparta possessions, the Lady Trojans took a hurried 3-point attempt and were called for an over-the-back foul on the ensuing rebound.

It was a coup de grace combo for Sparta (19-8).

“Kids don’t understand always the big grand scheme of things,” Lady Trojans coach Josh Loveland said. “In a game like that when you’re up four or five points, we want the clock to be running and don’t want them at the foul line. We did the exact opposite.”

Sparta led 42-31 with 6:29 remaining. Thanks in part to free throws, it took Strafford only four minutes to tie things up.

The Lady Trojans were outscored 17-0 over six minutes. 

“It seemed like the last three or four minutes every bounce of the ball turned and went their way,” Loveland said. “But they make their own destiny. They’re a really good team.”

Sparta didn’t end its scoring drought until a mere :08 remained when Megan Brown hit a 3-pointer.

A Strafford turnover allowed the Lady Trojans a chance to tie, but an off-balanced 3-point try at the buzzer was off the mark.

Shelby McMurry led Sparta with a dozen points in her finale. Brynn Holt added 11.

Holt had a pair of 3-pointers during a frenzied 12-0 Lady Trojans run at the start of fourth quarter. The home fans were allowing themselves to believe in an upset and were crazed in anticipation.

Sparta was executing Loveland’s game plan at both ends of the court. Loveland couldn’t have been happier, in particular, with his team’s defensive rebounding. The Lady Indians are notorious scrapping for offensive rebounds and putbacks.

“I told my kids Strafford had been one-and-done the entire first half. Even late in the game, I thought we did a great job defensively and we were still rebounding well,” he said. “They were taking 3s and there were long rebounds, but we were running them down.”

Just as Sparta was called for critical over-the-back fouls after misses at its basket, Loveland thought more of the same should have been whistled against Strafford.

“There were a few times they were over our backs and we didn’t get the call,” he said. “That’s the way the game is. Sometimes, you get calls and sometimes you don’t. That’s not the reason we got beat. But it definitely did start momentum for them.”

Ultimately, Loveland wants his players to realize all they they did to put themselves in position for an upset bid. In the regular season, Strafford beat Sparta by margins of 32 and 19 points.

“It was an incredible game. It didn’t go our way, but it doesn’t take away from the game it was,” Loveland said. “I wish we could have held on and came out on top. But I’m super proud of my kids for giving themselves a chance to win. 

“Ever since Blue Eye got away from us in the second half (in the Sparta Tournament final), we focused on being tougher with the basketball, being tougher offensively and being tougher not only physically, but mentally also,” he added. “We also started buckling down by taking care of the basketball and being a little more selective in our half-court (offense). We ran the floor well all season. Our offense came a long ways just because we got tougher.”

SPARTA (45) — B. Roller 2 1-2 6, A. Roller 1 0-0 3, Fulton 1 0-0 2, Youngmon 2 0-0 4, McMurry 6 0-1 12, Loveland 1 0-0 2, Holt 4 1-2 11, Brown 2 0-1 5.

STRAFFORD (48) — Compton 4 5-8 13, Jones 1 0-0 3, Frerking 3 0-0 6, Humble 3 3-4 9, Mullings 1 0-0 3, Walker 3 5-8 12, Chrismas 1 0-0 2.

Sparta     11 12  7  12 - 45

Strafford  6  15 10 17 - 48

3-point goals - Holt 2, B. Roller, A. Roller, Brown, Walker, Jones, Mullings.