Strain scored 38 points Monday — and Woodland got 27 from sister Leah Strain — but a more balanced Section team eliminated the Lady Bobcats 77-72 in the Class 2A Northeast Regional semifinals.
It marked the third consecutive year — and fourth time in five years — that Woodland lost in the regional semis. Section also eliminated Woodland a year ago.
Courtney Strain broke the state’s career scoring record a year ago and finished her six-year prep career with 5,283 points. She made “Faces in the Crowd” in the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, and she played herself into a scholarship at Auburn.
But the senior forward has long stressed that she most wanted a state championship.
“My No. 1 goal that I had set for my whole career is gone now,” a teary Courtney Strain said. “I know I’ll never get it.”
Leah Strain, an eighth-grader and two-year starter as Woodland’s point guard, seemed to take Monday’s loss the hardest. She shook hands with Section players then jogged off the court in tears, well ahead of her teammates.
Emotions overcame her during the postgame news conference.
“I’ll never get to play with my sister again,” she said. “That’s going to be hard, because she’s the leader on our team, and we’re going to truly miss her.”
Monday’s game also marked an ending of sorts for Woodland coach Larry Strain. He’ll have four more years to coach his youngest daughter, but his oldest will carry on her career two hours away.
“It’s been a pleasure to coach both of them and both of them getting to play at the same time,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of fun. We’ve had a lot of accomplishments. We’ve been real successful the last two years.”
Woodland finished 31-2 and lost just four games during the past two seasons, but two losses came at the Northeast Regional.
The Lady Bobcats had made a point this season of developing other scoring threats, and Courtney Strain’s scoring average fell from 34 to 25 points per game this season.
But the balance wasn’t there Monday. The Strain sisters scored all but seven of Woodland’s points.
Section (20-7) got 24 points from Taylor Adams, 21 from Devan Wilbanks and 12 apiece from Erin Massey and Erin Presley and advanced to Thursday’s 2A regional final against North Sand Mountain.
A lot of Section’s points came in or near the paint, as the Lady Lions out-shot the Lady Bobcats 56 to 32 percent.
“That’s what we talked about before we came down here,” Section coach Danielle Maples said. “We knew they played tight man (defense) outside, and we wanted to penetrate.”
Section’s third-quarter surge was the key.
Woodland pressed and produced a 10-3 spurt to close within 39-34 at halftime after trailing by as many as 12 points in the first half, but Section pushed back out to a double-digit lead in the third.
The Lady Lions led by 14 points twice, the last time coming on two Adams free throws to make it 60-46 just prior to the quarter break.
“We took better care of the ball in the press break,” Maples said. “There at the end of the second quarter, we started turning the ball over. I think we got tired and started trying to do it on our own.
“… We talked about at halftime that they weren’t going to quit. We upset them three or four times down here, and we knew they were out for us — especially Courtney and it being her senior year.”
Woodland rallied again in the fourth quarter, closing to within 69-64 on Courtney Strain’s 3-pointer at 3:23.
It was 73-66 during one frantic stay on Woodland’s side of the court. The Lady Bobcats forced two turnovers and got an offensive rebound before the Lady Lions could get it back over midcourt, but Woodland missed four shots in that 36-second sequence.
Woodland went 1-for-15 from the field in the final 2:46 and never came closer than within five points.
The game and Courtney Strain’s prep career ended with her trying to catch an inbounds pass and shoot in the final sixth-tenths of a second. The heavily defended shot fell out of bounds, well short of the backboard.
She finished 16-for-42 from the field and pulled down a game-high 17 rebounds.
“She’s phenomenal,” Maples said. “She can shoot the ball better than any guy I’ve seen. I mean, she’s got a jump shot.”
Massey chimed in, saying Courtney Strain has “a jump shot to die for.”
Now, Woodland must find a way to live without it.