E’lease Stafford steps up in Senior Night win over O-South

Lawrence High senior E’Lease Stafford (40) drives against a defender in a matchup against Olathe South on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 at LHS. Lawrence High beat Olathe South, 42-27.

When senior E’lease Stafford found her flow in Friday’s game against Olathe South, she began to fully look like the star player she’s been for the Lions over her four-year varsity career.

Playing in the final regular season home game of her career, Stafford finished with a game-high 15 points as the Lawrence High girls basketball team cruised to a 42-27 win over Olathe South at LHS.

But Stafford admits it took her a while to find her footing on Senior Night after shooting 0 of 3 from the floor in the opening period.

“I realized I’m not really a first quarter person,” Stafford said with a smile. “I’m mellow, I stand the floor and see how it goes.”

Once she got a feel for the game, Stafford posted 12 points in the second half to help the Lions secure their first win over the Falcons in at least a decade.

“I take over (in the second half) because I know how the game is going,” said Stafford, who will play at East Tennessee State. “I’m able to just play my game and control the game, too.”

Early in the game, LHS coach Jeff Dickson said he thought Stafford was rushed on the offensive end, but he saw her settle down in the second half and lead the offensive attack.

“E’lease was just phenomenal. Not only is she the best player in the Sunflower League, I think she’s one of the top four or five players in the whole state of Kansas,” said Dickson of Stafford, who scored her 1,000th point in an LHS uniform on Wednesday. “She wanted to put on a big performance on her Senior Night, and she helped lead us the way she always has.”

Despite the festivities of Senior Night, Stafford said the game itself still didn’t feel much different from any other matchup.

“We’ve been doing it for three years now, so it just feels like another game,” she said. “But personally, being a senior, it feels great.”

Other seniors who saw action were Talima Harjo, who scored four points, Asia Goodwin (three) and Tyrin Cosey (two).

In the game, LHS (16-4, 10-3 in league) led the entire way and took a commanding 20-8 lead into halftime after forcing eight turnovers in the first half.

Defensively, the Lions provided pressure and forced highly contested shots for most of the night. Olathe South shot just 11 of 55 (20 percent) from the floor.

In order to reach the state tournament, Stafford said she and her teammates needed to improve on the defensive end this season, and she believes her team has done just that.

“We started to take that into consideration this year and realized that if we wanted to go to state again, we have to play good defense and communicate with each other and believe in one another,” Stafford said.

Olathe South (27)

Emmalyn Geier 4-15 0-2 8, Sophie Reed 1-5 2-2 4, Lydia Rhoades 0-1 0-0 0, Caroline Harshbarger 0-8 1-4 1, Remy Braun 1-4 0-0 2, Aaliyah Pierce 1-4 2-2 4, Avery Halliday 2-3 0-0 4, Dani Winslow 1-11 0-0 2, Lauren Harder 1-4 0-0 2. Totals: 11-55 5-10 27.

Lawrence (42)

Hannah Stewart 1-5 0-0 3, Leslie Ostronic 0-0 2-2 2, Talima Harjo 2-6 0-0 4, E’lease Stafford 4-14 6-7 15, Chison Ajekwu 5-6 0-1 10, Sammy Williams 1-3 1-4 3, Tyrin Cosey 0-1 2-2 2, Asia Goodwin 1-4 0-0 3. Totals: 14-39 11-16 42.

O-South 4 4 13 6 — 27

Lawrence 8 12 12 12 10 — 42

3-point goals: LHS 3-14 (Stewart, Goodwin, Stafford); O-South 0-9. Fouled out: Ajekwu. Turnovers: LHS 13, O-South 12.