By Susan Harman
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – After surrendering a hard-earned six-point third-quarter lead, the West girls basketball team bolted out of the gates to begin the fourth quarter, scoring the first 12 points, and held off Southeast Polk 60-54 to earn a trip to the state tournament.
“It’s amazing,” West senior Maddie Huinker said. “This is the last game I’ll ever play at West High, and it’s definitely the best one to go out on.”
Third-ranked West (20-3) plays sixth-ranked Waukee (18-4) on Wednesday March 1 at 6:45 p.m. in a state quarterfinal at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
It will be West’s fifth appearance at state. The Women of Troy won the state title in 2012. No. 13 Southeast Polk’s season ended at 14-9, a function of competing in the rugged CIML, and the loss snapped a string of six consecutive state appearances.
Huinker’s back-to-back threes midway through the third quarter gave West a 33-26 cushion. She had missed two 3-point shots in the first half.
“Honestly, you can’t think when you shoot those,” Huinker said. “You’re just in the moment, and I think having that in back-to-back possessions really got our team going.”
But the Rams fought back behind Shiloh McCool’s relentless inside scoring and tied the game at 37 by the end of the third quarter.
“I think everyone was a little apprehensive, a little nervous, but in the end we knew what we were going to do,” Huinker said. “We knew we were going to fight; we were going to get it back. We were more focused. We knew how bad we wanted it.”
“We needed to amp up our defense a little,” sophomore Emma Koch said. “We had collapsed a little on defense for a couple minutes, but (coach B.J.) Mayer talked to us and we picked it up.”
The run to start the fourth quarter was decisive.
“We kind of told each other that we needed a gut check,” junior Rachael Saunders said. “We needed to see if we could pull this out.”
Logan Cook missed a shot but grabbed the rebound and put it in for the lead. Cook then stole a perimeter pass and was off to the races for an easy score. McCool then turned the ball over in traffic, and Cook fed Saunders on a fast break for a 43-37 lead.
“We went on that run and the energy was contagious,” Cook said. “All of us were excited.”
On the Rams’ next possession Koch stole an intended post feed, and Saunders scored on a drive at the other end. The Rams committed their fourth turnover in a row when Abby Sutten was whistled for a foul away from the ball. West converted that into a Koch rebound-follow basket and a 10-point advantage.
Southeast Polk coach Tracey Dailey called timeout, but West extended its lead on a Cook basket on an in-bounds play with about 4 minutes left in the game.
“We got some stops. McCool was killing us on the drive, and we took someone and said ‘You’re not leaving the lane,’” Mayer said. “McCool drove into traffic and turned it over a couple times and missed some shots.”
West made 9-of-11 foul shots in the final 3:29 to preserve the victory.
“We just turned the switch, and I guess it all fell into place,” West sophomore Cailyn Morgan said.
While McCool, an amazingly effective undersized post, finished with 28 points, the Women of Troy did a great job controlling the Rams’ leading scorer, Sierra Mitchell. Mitchell, who averages 18 points, is a lightning-quick guard with great range, but after scoring nine points in the first half she was held to two in the second by Saunders and Morgan.
“Our defense was really important in this game,” Morgan said. “I think the face-guarding really threw her off her game. I don’t think she saw it coming.”
Koch’s rebounding was a huge factor. She finished with 14 officially, but seemed to have even more than that and was always involved in the fight for the ball in the lane.
“We got contributions out of everybody,” Mayer said. “Emma was a rebound machine and our guards were steady.”
Southeast Polk 12 13 13 17 – 54
West High 13 12 12 23 – 60
Southeast Polk (54) – Sierra Mitchell 5-13 0-0 11, Anna Zelenovich 3-6 0-2 8, Shiloh McCool 12-20 4-8 28, Abby Sutten 0-6 2-3 2, Riley Mack ;0-0 0-0 0, Lily Baccam 0-1 2-2 2, Sami Albertson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-46 8-15.
West high (60) – Lauren Zacharias 0-5 4-4 4, Rachael Saunders 4-13 4-5 14, Maddie Huinker 2-6 0-1 6, Logan Cook 7-14 2-4 16, Emma Koch 4-6 0-1 8, Cailyn Morgan 1-4 4-6 7, Paige Beckner 0-4 2-2 2, Katie McGrane 1-3 1-2 3. Totals 28-55 17-25.
3-point goals – SEP 3-15 (Mitchell 1-4, Zelenovich 2-2, McCool 0-3, Sutten 0-5, Baccam 0-1), ICW 5-20 (Zacharias 0-4, Saunders 2-5, Huinker 2-4, Morgan 1-3, Beckner 0-2, McGrane 0-2). Total fouls – SEP 20, ICW 18. Fouled out – SEP (Zelenovich).