Spartans fend off Falcons
GRUNDY CENTER — Hailey Wallis finally got to play the season-opener about two-and-a-half months later, but boy did she make the most of her second chance.
Wallis scored a game-high 17 points and the Class 2A No. 8 Grundy Center girls’ basketball team fought past its neighbor to the north Aplington-Parkersburg for a 53-42 victory in Friday’s Region 2 semifinal.
The Spartans (21-1) won their 15th-straight in spite of a staunch challenge from the Falcons (14-8), who fell 50-47 to Grundy Center in both teams’ season-opener way back on Nov. 27, 2017. Wallis suffered a sprained ankle one minute into the season debut, missed the next two games and then came back to help the Spartans claim an NICL West Division championship.
Two wins later, the Spartans are staring at ranked opponent in No. 13 Pekin (22-2) for Monday’s regional final in Le Grand. The winner will advance to the state tournament.
“I was so excited for the first game [of the season] and then in that first minute [I got hurt],” Wallis said. “I think it might have hurt me a little more emotionally than it did physically, so I was really anxious to get out and play this game.”
Aplington-Parkersburg greeted her with a new challenge. The Falcons dispatched conference cross country champion Sophia Jungling to saddle up and ride Wallis wherever she went, and the strategy worked. Wallis was limited to five points against the box-and-one defense in the first half and the Spartans trailed at the break, 18-17.
“This was exactly what we thought it would be,” said Grundy Center head coach Matt Lindeman. “You create some turnovers and cause some havoc, which is what they wanted to do.
“They do a great job of providing that pressure and you knew at some point it was a matter of who was going to make a run. We were fortunate to make a run. I’m really proud of how our girls responded.”
The back-and-forth battle ensued before back-to-back offensive rebounds and putbacks for Reegan Zinkula and Brooke Flater put the Spartans in front 32-28 after three quarters.
Cora Saak cashed in her team’s second 3-pointer of the night to stretch the Spartan advantage to 35-30 early in the fourth, and a conventional three-point play for Wallis seemed to stoke Grundy Center’s fire.
“In all games you have to have that turning point, you have to have a play that gets you fired up, gets you ready for the next play,” Wallis said, “and I think that play and the play when Brooke had those offensive rebounds, all those plays are momentum-changers. And it always seems like Cora comes through in the clutch situations. We really needed that one.”
Aplington-Parkersburg whittled the deficit back down to four, 39-35, before the Spartans responded with a 5-0 run. Saak went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line, Flater converted a bounce pass from Wallis and Saak attacked the basket for a layup and it was suddenly a nine-point margin.
In a game in which the two teams combined for just three 3-pointers, every point was paramount.
“We try to make the game kind of ugly,” said A-P head coach Jason Berkey. “The longer we can stay in the game, the longer they’re going to feel the pressure. We did a great job, [Grundy Center] just made a few more buckets than we did and we missed a few.
“They’ve got a heck of a team but we battled tooth and nail for 32 minutes.”
Wallis, who went 10-for-12 at the free-throw line, led all players with her 17 points. Flater finished with 11 points, Saak had nine, Kylie Willis chipped in seven, Sydney Mathews added five and Zinkula had four more.
“We were ready for [the box-and-one], that’s what we anticipated,” said Lindeman. “We knew there would be something and that’s tough, I’m really proud of how Hailey worked through that. But that’s also the opportunity for others to step up. Cora hit some big shots … and a lot of kids stepped up in different ways, and that’s what we’ve had all year long.”
Grundy Center will go in search of its first state tournament berth since 2005, when the Spartans closed down Veterans Memorial Auditorium with a 2A championship. Pekin was a state qualifier two seasons ago.
Grundy Center 53, Aplington-Parkersburg 42
At Grundy Center
APLINGTON-PARKERSBURG (14-8) — Jenna Bruns 2 3-4 7, Megan Johnson 1 0-1 2, Sophie Jungling 0 2-2 2, Gabbi Kampman 1 1-2 3, Jaycie Ellis 4 1-2 9, Maddie Waller 1 1-2 4, Avari Everts 3 0-0 6, Ainsley Brungard 0 2-2 2, McKenna Oldenburger 3 1-2 7. TOTALS 15 11-17 42.
GRUNDY CENTER (21-1) — Hailey Wallis 3 10-12 17, Maddie McMartin 0 0-0 0, Sydney Mathews 2 1-2 5, Kylie Willis 2 3-5 7, Brooke Flater 4 3-6 11, Reegan Zinkula 1 2-2 4, Sarah Lindeman 0 0-0 0, Cora Saak 3 2-4 9. TOTALS 15 21-31 53.
A-P 8 10 10 14 — 42
GRUNDY CTR. 10 7 15 21 — 53
3-Point Goals–A-P 1 (Waller), GC 2 (Wallis, Saak). Total Fouls–A-P 20, GC 16. Fouled Out–Bruns, Everts.