Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – West Branch started strong and finished with a flurry in its first game action in nearly three weeks on Thursday.
In between the Bears got everything it could handle from Regina.
Class 2A third-ranked West Branch bolted to a 14-2 start and closed the game on a 12-2 run on its way to a 52-36 win over Regina in a River Valley Conference South Division tilt in Iowa City.
“I thought our kids played gutsy,” West Branch coach Jarod Tylee said. “It’s not easy when you don’t play for three weeks and Regina is a good basketball team. They are well-coached and they move so well on offense but in the end our kids did enough to win the basketball game and gutted it out.”
Senior point guard Sasha Koenig had a game-high 24 points, including six in the 12-2 West Branch run to close the game, as the Bears improved to 10-1 on the season and in RVC play.
Delaynie Luneckas added 12 points and nine rebounds as West Branch shot 43 percent from the field in its first game in 20 days.
“We really did not know what to expect, we knew we would be a little out of shape and luckily we were able to get offense out of our defense at the beginning,” Koenig said. “We were active on offense early, it was helpful not to have to shoot outside shots right away, we were able to cut and get easy baskets and then that gives you confidence and outside shots start to go in.”
The win was the seventh straight for West Branch (10-1, 10-1 RVC) but the first since a 39-point victory over Mid-Prairie back on January 8.
West Branch pressed the pause button the season over Covid-19 concerns the following week.
There was no sign of rust early on Thursday as West Branch scored the first 11 points and built a 14-2 lead just more than four minutes into the game.
“It takes some weight off your shoulders getting off to a good start,” Luneckas said. “It let us know we were right back in the groove, we didn’t lose anything we still have great shooters and great ball movement.”
Regina (6-5, 6-4) weathered the strong start from the Bears and made its only run, closing the first quarter on a 12-3 run to cut the lead to 17-14.
The Regals took advantage of the biggest West Branch concern in its return to the court – conditioning, during its run to end the first quarter.
After struggling with the Bears’ full-court pressure defense early Regina broke the press for easy baskets several times in the final four minutes of the opening quarter.
“You could probably tell tonight we were a little tired,” Luneckas said. “We were a little gased but we did what we could.”
Koenig scored 15 of her game-high 24 in the second quarter to give West Branch a 34-19 halftime lead but Regina wouldn’t go away.
The Regals continued to push the ball in transition and cut the lead to 40-31 with an 8-2 run to close the third quarter.
“I’m overly pleased with the effort and the competitiveness we just have to take care of the basketball,” Regina coach Mary Halvorson said. “We just need to finish. We had some layups, we had multiple times we were right there.”
Regina got as close as 40-34 when Annie Gahan hit a 3-pointer 13 seconds into the fourth quarter but West Branch answered.
The Bears scored the next eight points, four coming on free throws by Koenig, to push the lead back to 14 and the Regals never got closer than 12 the rest of the way.
“I didn’t know how well our conditioning would hold up because our starters play a lot of minutes but we ended the game on a 12-2 run so we did the things we needed to to win,” Tylee said. “Hopefully we get our legs back, that’s the biggest thing but I thought our kids gutted it out and played really hard.”
Rylan Druecker scored the first seven points of the game and finished with nine points for West Branch which hosts Wilton (9-6) on Friday and North Cedar (0-14) on Saturday.
“It was fun to get back out there,” Druecker said. “Sitting at home you are really eager to do something because there is nothing to do so it was good to get back out here with everyone.”
Gahan led Regina with 13 points while Hope Simpson had nine points and Abby Clark had seven.
Regina hosts Durant (3-13) on Friday and has road trips to Northeast (5-8) and Tipton (4-10) next week before hosting West Liberty (8-4) next Friday.
“All I can hope is that we grow from this and we are right back at it tomorrow and we are back at it three times next week,” Halvorson said. “Our record might not look that great but we will get there. It just takes some time.”
West Branch 17 17 6 12 – 52
Regina 14 5 12 5 – 36
West Branch (52) – Lexie Peak 1-5 0-0 3, Sasha Koenig 7-21 6-9 24, Delaynie Luneckas 5-6 2-2 12, Rylan Druecker 4-6 0-0 9, Taya Young 2-6 0-3 4, Sadie Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Madison Hovancik 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 19-44 8-14 52.
Regina (36) – Grace Gaarde 0-4 0-0 0, Annie Gahan 5-17 2-2 13, Abby Clark 2-5 3-4 7, Alli Clark 1-3 1-2 3, Lily Simpson 2-5 0-0 4, Hope Simpson 3-7 2-4 9, Alli Dillon 0-3 0-0 0, Totals 13-44 8-12 36.
3-point field goals – ICR 2-19 (Gaarde 0-4, Gahan 1-7, Ab. Clark 0-2, Al. Clark 0-2, H. Simpson 1-2, Dillon 0-2), WB (Peak 1-5, Koenig 4-12, Druecker 1-3). Rebounds – ICR 34 (L. Simpson 11), WB 28 (Luneckas 9). Turnovers – ICR 21, WB 15. Total fouls – ICR 12, WB 12. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.