By Pat Harty
Your Prep Sports
TIPTON – Just because your team is expected to make the state tournament for the third year in a row doesn’t lessen the thrill when it happens.
That was obvious when the buzzer sounded to end Regina’s 69-57 victory over Bellevue in a Class 2A girls regional final on Monday.
The Regina players celebrated wildly at mid-court, posing for pictures and receiving congratulatory hugs from family, friends and classmates.
“It’s special every single time,” said Regina junior guard Mary Crompton, who led the way with 24 points in Monday’s game. “It’s just a great team moment. And I know we’re all so excited to get to Wells Fargo.”
Crompton was referring to Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, which is the site of the girls’ state tournament.
Top-ranked Regina improved to 25-0 and will face 21-3 Logan-Magnolia in the first round of the Class 2A state tournament next Monday.
The victory over Bellevue was the latest milestone in Jeff Wallace’s second stint as the Regina head coach. Wallace returned to coaching this season after taking several years off.
He looked on with pride as the Regina players, which includes his sophomore daughter Kennedy Wallace, celebrated on the court after Monday's victory.
“It’s all about the kids,” Wallace said. “These girls have put a lot of time into the offseason during the summer. We just tell our kids we want to be the hardest working team in the state in the offseason and during the season. And we take great pride in that.”
Regina has been considered a heavy favorite to make a third consecutive trip to the state tournament. But the players still had to do it.
And there were lots of times in Monday’s game when it didn’t come easy.
Bellevue led 20-18 after the first quarter and the score was tied at 29 with less than four minutes remaining in the second quarter.
The Comets also had cut the deficit to 54-50 when Regina senior Sarah Lehman banked in a shot from near half-court just before the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter.
“That gave us a ton of momentum going into the fourth quarter,” Crompton said. “It was a close game, but that extra three points really helps us a lot. We just kind of rolled off that for the rest of the fourth quarter.”
Asked if she thought her shot had a chance to go in, Lehman said:
“I thought a little bit, and then when it did (go in) everybody freaked out and it was awesome.”
Regina then started the fourth quarter with an 8-1 scoring run, expanding the lead to 65-51 on a basket by Crompton.
Bellevue never got closer than eight points the rest of the way and ended the season with a 17-7 record, with two of the losses coming against Regina.
“Competition always helps,” Crompton said. “They were on us tight and we were forced to take care of the ball at the end and that’s going to help us at state.”
The Comets never seemed to recover after Lehman’s buzzer beater. They only scored seven points and made just three baskets in the fourth quarter.
“It was huge, but sometimes you’ve got to have lucky plays like that in postseason play,” Wallace said. “We’ve had some go against us over the years, I have. So it’s nice to get one of those.”
The Regina players embrace the challenge that comes with having a target on their back.
“I think the target actually really helps us,” Lehman said. “It motivates us to do what people don’t think we can do.
“We just work really hard as a team and we had that on our mind since day one. So it’s really nice to get back (to state).”
Crompton said the target inspires the team more than anything else.
“It’s definitely motivation because we know that we’re getting everybody’s best effort,” said Crompton, who made five 3-point baskets in Tuesday’s game. “So we know that we can’t slack off for one game. We can’t take one game off. We have to give every game our best.”
Lehman is the only senior for Regina who starts and plays a prominent role. Her teammates are on a mission to send her out on top.
“It means everything,” Crompton said. “I know I can speak for my teammates when I say this, but we think the world of Sarah and we play hard for her and we want her to have a great senior year.”
Lehman said the feeling is mutual.
“We have a great group of girls and I’m really excited for them, too, to get there again,” Lehman said.
Lehman, Crompton and sophomore center Alex Wiese combined to score all but seven of Regina’s points. Wiese finished with 21 points, while Lehman had 16, including 12 in the first half.
Sophomore Giana Michels led Bellevue with 19 points and four 3-point baskets. However, she was held to just five points in the second half.
Point guard Camryn Reeg also missed 14 of her 16 field-goal attempts.
Junior center Emma Kelchen caused problems for Regina on both ends of the floor, scoring 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field. But she also was in foul trouble for most of the game.
“I think getting Kelchen in foul trouble was big and we just got some big shots when we needed them and executed our offense a little bit better,” Wallace said.
Regina’s performance on Monday left much to be desired from the free throw line where the Regals missed nine of their 20 attempts.
“I think it says a lot about the character of our team,” Wallace said. “They’ve just got a lot of pride. Things didn’t go our way. We weren’t as efficient as we usually are, but we still scored 69 points and weren’t very efficient.”
Regina advanced to Monday’s regional final by defeating Maquoketa Valley 80-67 this past Friday.
Now on it’s on to the state tournament where Regina will seek its first state championship. Wallace hopes that being challenged in the regional will pay dividends at state.
“Bellevue came out and fought hard,” Wallace said. “I really believe that we had the toughest region in the state, no question about it. And we’re hoping it helps us. We need to learn from it.”
Regina 18 24 15 12 – 69
Bellevue 20 14 16 7 – 57
Regina (69) – Mary Crompton 7-13 5-6 24, Sarah Lehman 6-10 4-8 17, Greyson Dumont 0-0 0-0 0, Kennedy Wallace 1-4 0-0 3, Alex Wiese 9-14 2-5 21, Lauren Gaarde 1-2 0-0 2, Alexa Lehman 1-3 0-0 2, Katie Dunn 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-46 11-20 69.
Bellevue (57) – Kailey Miller 2-4 0-0 4, Camryn Reeg 2-16 0-0 5, Rebecca Schroeder 4-6 1-1 9, Giana Michels 7-15 1-2 19, Emma Kelched 6-9 0-0 12, McKenzey Till 1-1 0-0 2, Lindsey Banowetz 1-2 1-2 6. Totals 23-53 3-5 57.
3-point goals – Regina 8 (Crompton 5, S. Lehman, Wallace, Wiese); Bellevue 6 (Michels 4, Banowetz, Reeg_. Fouls – Regina 13, Bellevue 18.