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Lady Trojans' finale comes at the hands of Strafford for fourth straight post-season

SPARTA'S AVERI LEYLAND make a pass upcourt against Strafford on Wednesday.
SPARTA'S AVERI LEYLAND make a pass upcourt against Strafford on Wednesday.

SPRINGFIELD — Most nights Sparta’s Livi Loveland and her Lady Trojans teammates would gladly take committing turnovers at the same rate the opposition makes a 3-pointer.

But Wednesday that was a losing combination for Sparta.

The Lady Trojans were beaten at both ends of the court in their 70-40 Class 3 District 11 semifinal setback at the hands of Strafford.

The Lady Indians’ lead was already in double digits after a first quarter in which they made 5-of-11 3-point attempts, while Sparta had six turnovers.

The Lady Trojans followed up turning the ball three times in the first minute of the second quarter

“(Strafford’s pressure) was more than we could handle and I can't tell you why,” Loveland said. “We handled their pressure before. I think the game was bigger than we were capable of performing. The label of Districts was more than we could process. We kind of freaked out in the first (quarter).”

“We played a little afraid at the beginning,” center Amree Youngmon agreed.

Sparta won the teams’ regular-season matchup, 40-36. This time around, the Lady Indians were up 34-12 at halftime.

Strafford’s emphasis was clearly to make the rematch a much more up-tempo affair. The Lady Indians extended their defense along the perimeter, contesting every Sparta pass and not allowing the Lady Trojans to slow things with prolonged half-court sets.

“Props to Strafford, they came out battling,” guard Mya Fulton said. “We didn't expect anything less. Unfortunately, we couldn't step up and handle them.” 

“I’d been telling my kids they were going to want to make it a faster game and we were going to have to be able to handle their pressure and still run our offense,” coach Josh Loveland said. “We weren't able to do that and (their pressure) caused us some fits and turnovers.”

Strafford finished with 11 3-pointers.

“I watched a lot of film on them and ‘statted’ some of their games. Lauren (Jones) and Elsie (Larson) took 85 percent of their shots. Their other kids weren't even looking to shoot,” Josh Loveland said. “Our game plan was to make those kids have to shoot. When Elsie and Lauren were dribble penetrating, we were wanting to cut them off and make them kick it out. Their role players hit shots tonight. They did what they had to do.”

Sparta got no closer than 15 points of the lead in the second half.

“I convinced myself we had a shot until the buzzer went off,” Livi Loveland said. “I kept trying to get us to score more points and thought once we saw a few go in, we could make a comeback.”

Loveland scored 15 points, while Averi Leyland had 10 and Youngmon nine.

Sparta’s 40 points lowered the Lady Trojans’ season scoring average to 44.3.

“We were were kind of streaky shooting,” Josh Loveland said. “We shot it poorly at the beginning of the season and then in the middle we picked it up and I was thinking, 'Here we go.' But the last couple of weeks, with the exception of a couple games, we haven't shot it well. A lot of times you have kids who are struggling, but other kids are playing well. The last couple of weeks it felt like we were all struggling.”

It was a familiar finish for Sparta, having lost to Strafford at Districts each of the last four seasons.

The Lady Trojans (18-10) were 78-31 during that span and over the last five seasons have been among SWMO’s winningest teams with 97 victories.

“This has been the most fun season because we're not just friends on the court, we're friends on a personal level,” said Livi Loveland, who along with Leyland, Youngmon, Fulton and Madeline Brown are seniors.

“We did everything for each other and not ourselves,” Youngmon said. “I think about a family, that’s what I think of when I think about this season.”

“I love this group of girls. They have always been my favorite five to play with,” Fulton said. “I wouldn't trade anything than to be playing with these girls. I wish it wouldn't have ended this way. But when I think about this season, it will be about all the fun times, all the fun practices, the bus rides and all the sweat and tears we gave for each other.”