Spartans sail back to state

No. 8 Grundy Center girls outlast No. 13 Pekin in overtime, 44-36

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • Grundy Center junior Hailey Wallis, 12, holds the state qualifier banner the Spartans earned on Monday as her team celebrates their regional finals win over Pekin to move on to the state tournament.

LE GRAND — Having been so close so many times before, the Grundy Center girls’ basketball team paid no mind to a few extra minutes and a little added pressure.

The eighth-ranked Spartans survived a defensive battle with No. 13 Pekin and dealt the Lady Panthers a 44-36 defeat in Monday’s Class 2A Region 2 final at East Marshall High School, clinching their first trip to the Iowa Girls High School State Basketball Championships since bringing the title home in the Veterans Memorial Auditorium finale in 2005.

This will be the first trip to Wells Fargo Arena for Grundy Center (22-1), which leaned on its defense-first mindset to steal Pekin’s shot at back-to-back state tournament berths, forcing 22 Panther turnovers in a hard-fought win.

“The name of the game for us has been defense all year,” said Grundy Center head coach Matt Lindeman, whose squad came up just short against Okoboji in the regional finals two years ago. “We did a pretty darn good job defensively and that gave us a chance offensively. It wasn’t very pretty but it gave us a chance.”

Neither team led by more than four points during regulation, but Pekin (22-3) has the largest lead in the fourth quarter at 30-27 after Zoey Wright knocked down the Panthers’ sixth 3-pointer of the night and Maci Gambell followed with a layup with 4:44 to play.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • Grundy Center juniors Kylie Willis, Brooke Flater (42) and Hailey Wallis embrace in a hug after the final horn sounded on the Spartans’ 44-36 overtime win against Pekin in Monday’s Class 2A Region 2 championship game in Le Grand.

After a quick timeout, Grundy Center countered by pounding the ball into the post, where Pekin was dealing with foul trouble and Brooke Flater was producing when the ball managed to find its way into the interior. Her bucket made it a one-point game, and Kylie Willis tied the score again at 30-all with a free throw.

“We didn’t talk about the foul part of it, but we said we’ve got to get Brooke the ball inside, she’s open,” said Lindeman. “When we were able to, for the most part we were successful.”

Pekin pulled ahead when Paige Winn banked in a long 2-pointer, but another post play to Flater knotted the score at 32 with 1:05 remaining. Flater’s steal of an errant entry pass set the Spartans up with the ball and 20 seconds left, but Hailey Wallis’ 3-pointer was off the mark, as was Flater’s putback attempt, and the two teams went into overtime.

Haley Gambell gave the Panthers their last lead of the night when she scored inside while being fouled, but she missed her ensuing free throw. Grundy Center did not miss again. Wallis knocked down a jumpshot and then the Spartans went 8-for-8 at the charity stripe after Flater’s steal with 1:01 left.

Sydney Mathews went 2-for-2, Willis hit a pair after a pivotal steal with 41 seconds left, and Wallis went 4-for-4 to make it 42-35 with 16 seconds still showing.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

“We just knew we had to execute, we practice free throws every single day,” said Wallis. “There wasn’t any reason to be nervous about it because we knew we could drain them.”

Pekin pounded the offensive glass and got another free throw to fall, but Flater finished off the scoring with two more freebies before a mob of Spartans celebrated after earning the school’s sixth trip to state.

“At the beginning of the year I think we were one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the country that was undefeated,” smiled Lindeman. “Down the stretch we were able to do a nice job, the girls just stepped up. It was one of those things where they weren’t going to be denied.”

Wallis scored a game-high 17 points and Flater added 15 as the duo combined to tally 32 of Grundy Center’s 44 points. Reegan Zinkula added six points and helped create a number of Pekin’s 22 turnovers.

“It feels awesome,” said Zinkula. “When the moment happens it’s kind of hard to believe, but then when you realize it you take it all in and it’s just overwhelming and at the same time amazing.”

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

Haley Gambell led Pekin with 13 points and Wright added nine, but the Panthers were just the latest victim of a Spartan defense allowing just 34.9 points per game.

“We pride ourselves on defense a lot and when Kylie got that steal it was just a big momentum-changer,” said Wallis, “and then her knocking down the free throws was really big for us.

“When the buzzer sounded I was so overwhelmed, we’ve been dreaming of this ever since we were young kids going to the Well every single year to watch them play and now that we’re those girls it’s really amazing.”

The 2A state pairings will not be released until tonight due to two regional finals being postponed on Monday.

Grundy Center 44, Pekin 36, OT

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

At Le Grand

PEKIN (22-3) — Whitney Johnson 0 0-0 0, Paige Winn 2 0-0 4, Zoey Wright 2 3-4 9, Maci Gambell 1 1-2 3, Haley Gambell 5 0-1 13, Emilee Linder 1 0-0 2, Faith Oostra 2 0-0 4. TOTALS 13 4-7 36.

GRUNDY CENTER (22-1) — Hailey Wallis 5 4-4- 17, Madison McMartin 0 0-0 0, Sydney Mathews 0 2-2 2, Kylie Willis 0 3-4 3, Brooke Flater 5 5-6 15, Reegan Zinkula 3 0-0 6, Sarah Lindeman 0 1-2 1, Cora Saak 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 13 15-18 44.

PEKIN 7 9 4 10 4 — 36

GRUNDY CTR. 6 10 9 7 12 — 44

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

3-Point Goals–Pekin 6 (H.Gambell 3, Wright 2, Linder), GC 3 (Wallis 3). Total Fouls–Pekin 15, GC 14. Fouled Out–Oostra.