Your Prep Sports
DES MOINES – For West Branch head coach Jarod Tylee getting the first state tournament win in program history felt good.
Make that really, really good.
It was the way that West Branch earned its historic win on Wednesday that felt even better.
Third-ranked West Branch (21-1) used a smothering defensive effort to spark an early 15-0 run and cruised to a 49-33 win over eighth-ranked Grundy Center (19-4) in a Class 2A quarterfinal at Wells Fargo Arena.
“To finally get that first win in program history at the state tournament for us and for it to be defensive minded, to hold them to 33 points and play defense like we did today, that’s what makes it feel really good because that’s what we talk about all the time,” Tylee said. “I’m just super proud of how our kids executed our game plan.”
For a program built on pressure man-to-man defense the first state tournament win for West Branch couldn’t have come in more fitting fashion.
West Branch held Grundy Center to 29 percent shooting and a season-low 33 points while stretching its winning streak to 18 and advancing to the 2A semifinals against second-ranked Dike-New Hartford (24-0) on Friday at Noon.
“We are big on defense, that’s what we focus on, so to come here and showcase our in-your-face man defense was fitting,” West Branch senior Sasha Koenig said. “I loved the way we play defense.”
Koenig had a game-high 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out six assists and junior Delyanie Luneckas had 13 points and 12 rebounds.
It was what the Bears did on defense that set the tone on Wednesday.
West Branch held Grundy Center scoreless for more than eight minutes during a 15-0 run that spanned the end of the first and start of the second quarter and turned a two-point deficit into a 25-9 lead.
Luneckas had eight of her 13 points during the 15-0 spurt that started with a Lexie Peak 3-pointer.
“I know a few people had some nerves, obviously it’s a big game but we’ve prepared for this and with preparation comes confidence,” Luneckas said. “We had that confidence in ourselves and in our teammates so we came out and did it.”
West Branch held Grundy Center with a point for the final 4:39 of the first quarter while taking a 9-6 lead.
The Bears opened the second quarter with 10 consecutive points, holding the Spartans scoreless for the opening 3:45 of the quarter.
West Branch led 19-6 after a conventional 3-point play by Taya Young with 4:44 left in the opening half.
“We really emphasis defense every time before we get on the court and I think we showed out today,” Young said. “Our defense was outstanding and we really emphasized that.”
A year after letting an early lead slip away in a quarterfinal loss to Osage the Bears continued to build.
West Branch led 25-11 at halftime and held Grundy Center without a point for the opening 4:07 of the second half.
By that point West Branch had a commanding 17-point cushion.
“It feels awesome, I’m just proud,” Koenig said. “Last year we came here and it was just a thrill and this year we are all on the same page and we are pretty focused that this year wasn’t going to be like that. We are a team that belongs to be here and we have to show that on the court and I thought we did.”
West Branch used its half-court, pressure, man-to-man defense to forced 14 turnovers while keeping Grundy Center out of sync on offense.
The Spartans didn’t score double digit points in a quarter until the fourth and finished with six fewer points than it had in its previous season-low.
West Branch committed just five fouls, allowed just four free throws and had a 35-27 rebounding edge.
Anything a team could do well defensively the Bears did it.
“We went crazy on defense, we were everywhere,” Koenig said. “We talked as well as we ever have, we were all over the place on defense and that obviously opens up offense and it’s discouraging to them when we are not letting them play the way they want to play.”
Senior guards Rylan Druecker and Young each had seven points for West Branch.
Young had six rebounds and three steals, Druecker five boards anad two steals.
Lexie Peak had six points on a pair of 3-pointers.
“Confidence was the key,” Young said. “We had a lot of good open looks we had Delaynie working her butt off the in the paint and I think that really helped and we took advantage of their weaknesses and that’s how we scored our points.”
Bailey Reding had 16 points to lead Grundy Center while Paiton Wallis had six.
Grundy Center leading scorer Lainy Thoren who entered averaging 14.5 per game finished with five points on 2-of-9 shooting.
The win snapped a string of three straight state tournament losses for West Branch and was the first in three tries for Tylee who led West Branch to state in 2016 and 2020.
“I’m not going to make any bones about it, it is a relief and it feels good,” Tylee said. “It feels good for our program to get that win but I’m happy for our school and for our community. Any time you can get a team to the final four of any sport it just feels really good and I’m happy for West Branch.”
Grundy Center 6 5 9 13 – 33
West Branch 9 16 13 11 – 49
West Branch (49) – Lexie Peak 2-3 0-0 6, Sasha Koenig 6-17 0-0 16, Delaynie Luneckas 6-12 1-2 13, Rylan Druecker 3-6 0-0 7, Taya Young 3-9 1-1 7, Bailey Donohoe 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 20-48 2-3 49.
Grundy Center (33) – Paiton Wallis 2-10 0-0 6, Lainy Thoren 2-9 1-4 5, Emma Beck 1-4 0-0 2, Dahlia Gardiner 1-3 0-0 2, Bailey Reding 6-14 0-0 16, Taylor Stahl 0-1 0-0 0, Bella Dole 0-1 0-0 0, Lucy Lebo 0-1 0-0 0, Carlie Willis 1-1 0-0 2, Allison Beenken 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 13-45 1-4 33.
3-point field goals – WB 7-15 (Peak 2-3, Koenig 4-9, Druecker 1-2, Young 0-1), GC 6-21 (Wallis 2-8, Thoren 0-2, Beck 0-2, Reding 4-7, Dole 0-1, Lebo 0-1). Rebounds – WB 35 (Luneckas 12), GC 27 (Thoren 8). Assists – WB 13 (Koenig 6), GC 9 (Wallis 3). Turnovers – WB 12, GC 14. Total fouls – WB 5, GC 4. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.