Your Prep Sports
WILLIAMSBURG – West Branch had to sweat out the final seconds of a four-point regional semifinal win over Pella Christian last week.
The Bears made sure to forgo any late-game drama in its regional final on Wednesday.
Third-ranked West Branch used a 10-0 second-quarter run to break open a close game returning to the state tournament for the second straight season with a 62-39 win over Regina (12-8) in the Class 2A, Region 3 title game at Williamsburg High School.
“The last thing I said to our kids tonight before the game is, I just told them not to let the moment be bigger than them,” West Branch coach Jarod Tylee said. “They’ve been here before, they’ve won this game before, they needed to take the moment and I felt like they did.”
The win was the 17th straight for West Branch and the third of the season over River Valley Conference South Division rival Regina.
West Branch (20-1), which has lost each of its previous three state tournament openers including a quarterfinal loss to Osage last season, will face eighth-ranked Grundy Center (19-3) in a Class 2A state quarterfinal on Wednesday at Noon at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“This was the goal from day one,” West Branch senior Taya Young said. “This was the goal but it’s not over. I can’t wait to play at state again. We are looking to keep playing for a while.”
After surviving against Pella Christian in the semifinals on Friday, West Branch looked every bit like a team capable of making a deep run in Des Moines next week.
West Branch shot 53 percent from the field, including 10-of-20 from 3-point range, and had four players in double figures led by senior all-state point guard Sasha Koenig with 19.
“We are playing our best basketball right now,” Koenig said. “We are shooting it well, everybody is locked in and we all have the same goal.”
Both teams were locked in early on Wednesday as a fast-paced first quarter ended with West Branch leading 17-14.
In each of the two regular season meetings between the teams, both double-digit West Branch wins, the Bears pulled away in fourth quarter.
On Wednesday West Branch got some separation before the half using a 10-0 burst to open the second quarter to build a lead that would never dip below double digits.
“It was very big to get some separation early,” West Branch junior Delaynie Luneckas said. “We were confident coming into the game but we also needed to show them who was boss and put the nail in the coffin.”
West Branch led 35-22 at the half and put the game away with an 11-0 run to close the third quarter, holding Regina scoreless over the final 6:18 of the quarter.
Annie Gahan had 23 points in the final regular season meeting between the two teams earlier this month but was held in check on Wednesday by a West Branch defense designed to limit her touches.
“The game that we played at our place Annie Gahan dropped 23 on us so we really focused on her leading up to this,” Young said. “She is very athletic so we had to try to stop her and we were just rotating players on her trying to keep her from getting the ball or getting a good shot.”
The leading scorer from Regina on the season, Gahan was held to eight points on 3-of-11 shooting as the Regals shot 30 percent from the floor and were 4-of-17 from 3-point range.
“We wanted to try to limit Gahan as much as possible and she had eight and that’s pretty good because she scored 23 against us last time,” Tylee said. “There is the difference right there.”
While Regina struggled to get going offensively West Branch was firing on all cylinders.
Koenig had a game-high 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting and had half of the Bears’ 10 3-pointers going 5-of-8 from beyond the arc.
“Regular season is regular season but once the postseason comes that’s when it really starts,” Koenig said. “This is what we’ve been looking forward to.”
Young had 15 points and fellow senior Ryan Druecker had 11 for West Branch while 6-foot-2 Luneckas had 14 points and 16 rebounds.
“I am ecstatic,” Luneckas said. “To come out and win like that is just awesome. I am super proud of all these girls, we just put it together and had a great game.”
Hope Simpson had eight points and 10 rebounds for Regina which had won back-to-back road games to reach the regional finals for the second consecutive season under head coach Mary Halvorson.
“Regina is a great basketball team and I have a lot of respect for Mary,” Tylee said. “She does a good job of coaching those kids up and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, the score shows what it shows us but they fought us tooth and nail. They were tough.”
West Branch 17 18 13 14 – 62
Regina 14 8 4 13 – 39
West Branch (62) – Lexie Peak 1-2 0-0 2, Sasha Koenig 7-13 0-0 19, Delaynie Luneckas 6-9 2-2 14, Rylan Druecker 4-8 0-0 11, Addie Wehde 0-1 0-0 0, Taya Young 5-8 4-6 15, Allie Laschanzky 0-2 0-0 0, Totals 23-43 6-8 62.
Regina (39) – Berlyn O’Connor 0-1 0-0 0, Grace Gaarde 1-9 0-0 3, Tamiah Teran 1-2 0-0 3, Annie Gahan 3-11 1-2 8, Abby Clark 2-7 1-1 5, Allison Clark 1-2 1-2 3, Lilly Simpson 1-5 2-6 4, Hope Simpson 4-10 0-1 8, Alli Dillon 1-2 0-0 3, Emma Panther 1-1 0-0 2, Totals 15-50 5-12 39.
3-point field goals – ICR 4-17 (Gaarde 1-6, Teran 1-2, Gahan 1-4, Ab. Clark 0-2, L. Simpson 0-1, Dillon 1-2), WB 10-20 (Peak 1-2, Koenig 5-8, Druecker 3-6, Young 1-2, Laschanzky 0-2). Rebounds – ICR 30 (H. Simpson 10), WB 28 (Luneckas 16). Turnovers – ICR 14, WB 12. Total fouls – ICR 9, WB 9. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.