Warriors ward off GMG

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • Meskwaki freshman point guard Deandra Navarro, drives in for a layup past GMG junior Mable Dieleman during the second half of Thursday’s Class 1A regional girls’ basketball game at Meskwaki Settlement.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • Meskwaki freshman point guard Deandra Navarro, drives in for a layup past GMG junior Mable Dieleman during the second half of Thursday’s Class 1A regional girls’ basketball game at Meskwaki Settlement.

MESKWAKI SETTLEMENT — The “best” thing about the Meskwaki girls’ basketball team losing its starting point guard in the final week of the regular season was the game the following night.

A week after senior Delicia Guevara went down, the Warriors reaped the benefits of the extra experience freshman Deandra Navarro gained.

Navarro scored a team-leading 16 points — 11 of them in the second half — to help the Meskwaki girls fight off GMG for a 52-41 win in Thursday’s Class 1A Region 3 opener.

The two Iowa Star Conference South Division rivals had already played twice during the regular season, with the host Warriors (12-9) taking both contests by a combined 48 points. Halfway through the third meeting, the Wolverines (8-13) held a 20-17 lead with their playoff lives on the line.

GMG couldn’t keep it up, however, and Meskwaki got enough shots to drop to advance and face No. 8 AGWSR (18-2) in Tuesday’s regional quarterfinal at Ackley.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

“It’s hard to beat anybody three times, it doesn’t matter who it is,” Meskwaki head coach Patrick Moore said of facing a familiar foe in the first round of regionals. “I knew GMG would be prepared and would have a good gameplan, they were ready for our press. You just expect that and see how the game goes and try to make adjustments as you go.

“It was a good ballgame. Everything we tried to do, they countered. I thought both groups of kids played really hard, we just were able to make some plays and make some free throws there late that pulled us away.”

The Warriors won for the fifth time in their last seven games, getting the shots to drop in the second half that didn’t fall in the first. Abigail Ironshell banked in a 3-pointer for the game’s first points, but Meskwaki didn’t sink another triple until the second half.

GMG never led by more than three, and the Wolverines held a 28-27 advantage midway through the third quarter before the Warriors found their groove. Ironshell went coast-to-coast with a steal, Jaylee Moore swished a deep 3, and another Moore bucket put Meskwaki up 34-28 going into the fourth.

But the Wolverines went back on the attack, driving the lane and forcing the Warriors to put themselves between GMG and the basket. The result was a 7-0 spurt to start the fourth quarter and the Wolverines captured their last lead, 35-34, with 6:30 to play.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

The game was tied at 37-all with 5:38 remaining when the Warriors started dictating the pace of play, with Navarro leading the charge. Her 3-pointer off an inbounds set started Meskwaki on a 15-4 run to end the game, even after Moore picked up her fifth foul with 4:03 left on the clock.

GMG failed to take advantage, settling for jumpshots instead of attacking Meskwaki’s taller but foul-plagued interior defenders. Tori Lasley had three fouls and was worn down because of the Warriors’ limited bench, but the Wolverines couldn’t capitalize.

Navarro turned a steal into a layup and then got to the free-throw line three times down the stretch to help cinch the win.

“Our season came down to a five-minute stretch where we got outscored 14-5,” said GMG head coach Justin Hornberg. “It was tied 37-all and for some reason we lost our heads. I don’t understand what we were thinking there, playing as fast as we decided we were going to.”

The up-tempo pace, which had worked out in GMG’s favor in the first half because of Navarro’s shooting struggles and the Wolverines’ calm demeanor, eventually started benefitting the home team. And after losing Guevera during East Marshall’s comeback win over the Warriors, Meskwaki had the savvy to endure GMG’s attempted rally.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

“That last game against East Marshall when we were in a similar situation gave us some experience to talk about it, and we talked about it,” coach Moore said. “We knew we were going to be in that situation again and we’ve got to be able to handle things a little better.

“It gave me an opportunity to see some really young kids in situations they’re really not used to being in, and it gave them the chance to play and have some pressure. Deandra handled it. She didn’t handle her emotions great in the first half, but late in the game when she needed it she did and probably most importantly she made some free throws when we needed her to.”

Last Friday night, less than 24 hours after Guevara’s injury, Navarro scored a game-high 22 points in a 54-38 win against Don Bosco. She wasn’t quite as effective in Tuesday’s lopsided loss at 3A West Marshall, but the increased playing time was the most important part of the unfortunate scenario.

Lasley finished with another 12 points, Ironshell had nine, Payton Tahahwah had eight and Moore finished with seven.

GMG’s lone senior McKensie Vaske finished with a game-high 20 points. Zoe Duncan added eight points, Kelsey Vaverka had six and Belle Duncan chipped in with five.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

“McKensie’s been doing that all year,” Hornberg said. “I hate to see her have to go out like this. The last three years, every year she’s gone a round further than the previous. To go out in the first round is tough for her.

“I wouldn’t trade her for anybody.”

The Wolverines closed with losses in seven of their final nine games, though two of those were to ranked Iowa Star opponents.

Meskwaki moves into the regional quarterfinals in hopes of avenging a 75-38 loss to AGWSR, which the Warriors suffered Dec. 21 in Ackley.

“I think they’re the best team we’ve played this year,” coach Moore said of the Cougars, who received a first-round bye. “They run a good program and those kids really know how to play. It’s a chance to go play a good team and play another game and compete.

“We’re that prototypical play-to-the-level-of-your-competition team, so this is one if we do that it’s going to be good because we’re going to have to step up and play.”

Meskwaki 52, GMG 41

At Meskwaki Settlement

GMG (8-13) — Madi Krull 0 0-0 0, Zoe Duncan 4 0-0 8, Mable Dieleman 0 0-0 0, McKensie Vaske 9 2-7 20, Kelsey Vaverka 3 0-2 6, Belle Duncan 1 3-4 5, Tory Novotny 1 0-0 2, Emily Vaughn 0 0-2 0. TOTALS 18 5-15 41.

MESKWAKI (12-9) — Deandra Navarro 5 5-10 16, Abigail Ironshell 2 4-10 9, Payton Tahahwah 3 1-3 8, Jaylee Moore 3 0-0 7, Tori Lasley 4 4-6 12, Genesis Ramirez 0 0-0 0, Leticia Garcia 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 17 14-29 52.

GMG 6 14 8 13 — 41

MESKWAKI 11 6 17 13 — 45

3-Point Goals–Meskwaki 4 (Navarro, Ironshell, Tahahwah, Moore). Total Fouls–GMG 21, Meskwaki 15. Fouled Out–Krull, Moore.