FARMINGTON – Farmington protected an early lead, and overpowered a perimeter-focused North County squad with dominant play near the basket during a Class 4, District 2 semifinal contest on Tuesday.
The Knights consistently worked inside and earned trips to the free-throw line to help secure an 81-70 victory. They finished 30-of-35 from the stripe, while the Raiders made all seven of their attempts.
Farmington (18-9) moves on to rematch Hillsboro (22-4) in the championship game on Friday. The top-seeded Hawks will defend the crown after a 39-38 triumph on their home floor last year.
The Knights won the season series against North County (20-7) with a 3-1 edge, dropping only the MAAA Large-School battle in Bonne Terre.
Junior Cole Laurence led the resistance inside for Farmington with a game-high seven blocks, and added eight points plus five rebounds.
Brendon Hardy paced the offense with 25 points, while Tycen Gray provided 13 of his 19 points from the foul line.
Hayden Sprenkel finished with 23 points plus six rebounds, and ended his stellar career at North County placing second on the MAAA boys basketball career scoring list. He recently signed with Three Rivers College.
Teammate and fellow senior Hunter Johnson dropped in eight 3-pointers, and earned 27 of his game-high 29 points after halftime.
The Raiders began the second half facing a 47-25 deficit, and looked to mount a comeback by attacking the basket. However, Laurence and Gray often shut down open lanes to restrict easy chances.
Sprenkel was called for a charge on a determined drive with 5:42 to play in the third quarter, and head coach Jimmy Palmer received a technical foul moments later for objecting to the call.
Hardy achieved a 55-28 lead for Farmington by sinking both resulting free throws.
North County responded by forcing five turnovers, and generated an 8-0 run over the next three minutes to flip momentum. Hardy snapped the stretch with a patented fade-away jumper to hold the edge at 57-36.
The Raiders continued to cause Farmington mistakes, and worked to find the hot hand of Johnson along the perimeter. He posted 15 points during the third period, but the Knights maintained a 66-50 lead heading into the fourth.
Johnson frequently popped free after setting a solid screen, and briefly narrowed the spread to 71-61 on his sixth 3-pointer with 3:40 to play.
The Knights remained poised with the late lead, and managed time well with methodical passing. Bryce Sancegraw padded the margin by finishing perfect on 11 free throws, and notched 16 points overall.
Tyler Johnston contributed two putback layups and four rebounds during the final 90 seconds, but time soon ran out on the Raiders.
Farmington began the game on a 6-0 run by focusing its offense inside. Sprenkel floated in a shot to make the score 6-2 with 6:10 on the clock.
Jackson Schrum created the first double-figure advantage by banking in a 3-pointer off an inbounds pass at the first-quarter buzzer for a 22-11 lead. He tallied 10 points plus five rebounds in the victory.
The Knights switched defensively on screens to deny easy 3-point opportunities, and turned multiple misses into transition offense.
Farmington stretched the lead beyond 20 points nearing halftime with fluent ball movement to find the open man on fast breaks.