By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – The first game on the rematch-filled River Valley Conference road to the state tournament for West Branch was a smooth one.
West Branch led 21-9 after one quarter and was never challenged in a 69-46 win over RVC North foe North Cedar (9-13) in a Class 2A, Region 7 quarterfinal on Tuesday in West Branch.
The road trip gets long and the rematch gets tougher on Friday as West Branch travels to Bellevue in the Region 7 semifinals.
West Branch won the only regular season meeting between the two RVC cross-divisional rivals 57-39 in Bellevue on January 20.
“I think for our kids there is a comfort level having played these teams before but there is never a comfort level for me,” West Branch coach Tylee said. “My biggest thing is the last time we went up (to Bellevue) we played really well. That was one of our best games of the year which mean you know they are going to be well prepared and they are going to be out to get some revenge against us so we have to be ready to go.”
West Branch was ready to go from the outset in its postseason opener on Tuesday.
The Bears shot 51 percent from the floor, held a 38-35 rebounding edge and limited North Cedar to 34 percent shooting while improving to 14-8 with their third straight win.
The win was the second of the season for West Branch over North Cedar after winning the regular season meeting 50-38 in Clarence on Jan. 27.
“Getting to play teams that are in our conference we already know what type of teams they are and that’s kind of nice,” West Branch senior Haley Mullinnix said. “Usually in the postseason you don’t know the teams you play and you have to go in and wing it, so it’s nice to go in and play against teams you know.”
Mullinnix had a game-high 26 points as the starting backcourt for West Branch combined for 60 of the Bears’ 69 points.
Tatum Koenig added 23 points and Paige Miller had 11 as West Branch posted its third highest scoring output of the season.
I think we knew who was hot at certain times and we got the ball to the people that were making shots,” Mullinnix said.
West Branch broke open a three-point game with a 10-1 run to end the first quarter that gave the Bears a 21-9 lead.
West Branch then put the game out of reach with a 10-0 run to start the second quarter, holding North Cedar scoreless for more than 4:30 to open the quarter.
“I told their coach before the game when we played them the last time we won by 10 or 12 points but I thought they out-toughed us and tonight I thought we out-toughed them,” Tylee said. “Toughness is such a cliché word with coaches in sports but it’s true, you have to be tough whatever it is, rebounding the ball, defensively or with the ball I thought we were tough tonight.”
The starting West Branch post duo of Abby Knoop and Abbey Fryauf didn’t score a point on Tuesday but combined for 16 rebounds as West Branch outrebounded the Knights by three.
Fryauf and Knoop also played a key role in the 18-of-53 field goal shooting for North Cedar altering shots in the post.
Knoop finished with a game-high 10 rebounds.
“They don’t blow up the stat sheet but they were tough, they were physical, they rebounded the basketball pretty well,” Tylee said of Knoop and Fryauf. “We gave up a few stretches where we gave up too many offensive rebounds but overall I thought our post people played pretty well.”
West Branch can now turn its full attention to Bellevue (16-6) which advanced with a 64-24 win over Calamus-Wheatland on Tuesday.
Bellevue has won six of its last seven games after the loss to West Branch last month.
“We really just look one game at a time and focus on ourselves,” Miller said. “We know that we have played all these teams and we know if we play our best we have a chance to go as far as possible so we just try to focus on ourselves every game.”
Miller had a career-high 20 points and Koenig had 26 in the first meeting with Bellevue as the duo combined to make 19-of-33 field goals in the win.
Does that performance provide extra confidence going into Friday’s rematch?
“For sure,” Miller said. “Any time you get a win, a big win against a good team going in the next game you have a lot of confidence.”
West Branch 21 15 15 18 – 69
North Cedar 9 6 11 20 – 46
West Branch (69) – Abbey Fryauf 0-1 0-0 0, Courtney Jarrett 0-0 2-2 2, Riley Vaughan 1-2 0-0 3, Paige Miller 5-9 0-0 11, Abby Knoop 0-1 0-3 0, Tatum Koenig 6-15 9-10 23, Haley Mullinnix 11-15, 1-2 26, Mackenzie Heise 1-3 2-3 4, Allie Waterman 0-1 0-0 0, Team 24-47 14-22 69.
North Cedar (46) – Tessa Field 0-4 1-3 1, Lexie Crist 2-13 4-4 9, Grace Proesch 3-11 1-2 7, Kourtney Bendixen 1-2 0-0 2, Nicole Sander 0-2 0-0 0, Darby Hawtrey 8-14 1-2 18, Leah Crock 4-7 1-2 9, Team 18-53 8-13 46.
3-point field goals – WB 7-19 (Vaughan 1-2, Miller 1-5, Koenig 2-8, Waterman 0-1, Mullinnix 3-4), NC 2-13 (Fields 0-1, Crist 1-9, Proesch 0-1, Sander 0-1, Hawtry 1-1). Rebounds – WB 38 (Knoop 10), NC 35 (Hawtrey 7). Turnovers – WB 17, NC 19. Total fouls – WB 14, NC 16. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – North Cedar (Bendixen).