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Lafferty backs up his words with powerful performance to lead Sparta to District title


FAIR GROVE — On a night in which trash-talking was prevalent from both sides, Sparta’s Jacob Lafferty received good-natured ribbing from one source that he knew better than to have an answer for.

Waiting for the final 1.5 second to play out as a teammate shot free throws in the Class 3 District 11 championship game Friday, Lafferty strode downcourt all the way to the other basket and stood next to one of the officials working the game.

“He says to me, ‘C’mon now, you can't guard me,’” Lafferty said with a laugh.

Lafferty otherwise had no match. He was a man amongst boys. Strafford couldn’t guard the 6-foot-5 dynamo during his epic 33-point performance that powered Sparta to an 82-77 title tilt triumph. 

On his way to leading the Trojans to their first District championship since 2004, Lafferty went from no words to a war of words. As loud as his play was in front a roaring standing room only crowd, he was relatively quiet and deep in his own thoughts at school Friday.

“He didn't talk to many people,” Lafferty best friend and Sparta backup guard Mason Letterman said. “That’s usually how he is for the big games. He came out tonight and was ready to play.”

“Usually, I’m cracking up jokes. Today, though, I put my Air-pods in all day, listened to the teachers, did my school work and didn’t really talk to anyone,” Lafferty said. “I was locked in. We hadn't done one of these (District championships) in a while. I wanted to win it.”

Emotions were high from the get-go. Immediately, ’Big Game Jake’ and Strafford players began trading barbs.

Following a breakaway dunk over an Indians defender, Lafferty did a bit of taunting. 

“They were talking trash, so I thought, 'I have to,’” Lafferty said of his staredown.

“I’m going to keep my mouth shut based on what their kids were telling him,” Sparta coach Deric Link said of the disparaging dialogue.

Lafferty had 20 points in the first half, allowing Sparta to split from a 21-all tie and reel off 16 unanswered points for a 37-21 advantage early on in the third quarter.

All in all, the Trojans enjoyed a 30-6 run, after Strafford started the game by leading 15-7.

Lafferty was having the time of his life amidst the crazed atmosphere.

“I embrace that kind of stuff,” he said. “Playing in a hostile environment in which the student section is chanting at you and fans are screaming at you, that’s my favorite thing to do, It makes it so much fun.”

“He's a diamond, you don't find many of those,” Link said.

Sparta gained control of the proceedings while making only one 3-pointer all night. It was mostly by design that the Trojans didn’t try many 3s.

“We told our kids, 'We've got to get to the rim, don't settle for jump shots,’” Link said. “In this kind of environment, you don't know what kind of emotion and adrenaline is going to be running through you — get to the rim and see if they're going to be willing to get in front and take charges.”

Forward Dexter Loveland’s high-percentage shots around the basket led to him contributing 18 points. He often had to shoot through contact against a taller Strafford front line. 

“Their whole team was physical and we were trying to be physical back,” Loveland said. “I’m proud of us.”

Sparta held a 47-26 edge with 2:48 remaining in the third quarter, when Lafferty was whistled for his fourth foul. 

With Lafferty on the Trojans’ bench, Strafford quickly began to rally.

“I was watching them come back and thought, 'Oh my gosh.' It got scary for me,” Lafferty said.

Lafferty re-entered the game in the fourth quarter and kept alive his season-long streak of not fouling out. 

He credited the stout officiating crew on hand for not having quick whistles.

“When the refs let you play, it's so great,” Lafferty said. “That’s when I thrive.”

The refs had no choice but to call fouls in bunches in the fourth quarter, as Strafford sent Sparta to the free-throw line repeatedly in an effort to aid its comeback bid. The Trojans finished 39-of-53 on their free throws.

Walker Loveland was 9-of-13 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter alone. Kavan Walker, fresh from a career-high eight 3-pointers Wednesday, scored all six of his points from the free-throw line.

Strafford (15-11) put up 39 points in the fourth quarter. The Indians had 38 through three quarters.

On the night, Strafford outscored Sparta 39-3 on 3-pointers. The Indians’ Braden Willard was scoreless until making five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

Link wasn't surprised to see Strafford fight to the final second.

“You know when you're in a Strafford District, normally you've got to go through Strafford,” Link sad. “We survived. We did our work early.”

With Sparta (23-5) now prepping for a Sectional date against fellow SWCL member Southwest (21-7) on Monday at Carthage, Link voiced his appreciation of the Trojans’ ever-growing fan support. 

“That was pretty special, with the way our community showed out,” he said. “The community has been begging for Sparta to be what it once was. We used to win a lot in the 90s and early 2000s and the 90s, 80s, 60s and 50s. The tradition is there.”

Sparta 82, Strafford 77

STRAFFORD (77) — McNew 2 0-0 4, Rael 5 6-11 17, Voysey 6 4-7 21, Willard 5 0-0 15, Berg 4 0-0 9, Going 1 3-7 5, Edelstein 1 2-2 5, Ross 0 1-2 1.

SPARTA (82) — Brown 1 4-4 7, D. Loveland 6 6-8 18, Lafferty 11 11-15 33, Walker 6-8 6, W. Loveland 2 9-14 13, Letterman 1 3-4 5.

Strafford 15  6 17  39 - 77

Sparta    15 17 21 29 - 82

3-point goals - Willard 5, Voysey 5, Berg, Rael, Edelstein, Brown.