DES MONIES-Western Christian may have overlooked North Linn at the start of the contest and that fact just about cost the Wolfpack the game, but late 3-pointers allowed Western Christian to pull away in the fourth quarter for a 58-48 Class 2A state quarterfinal victory Monday, Feb. 27.
North Linn came in with a young team as it only has one senior that comes off the bench. Some of the Wolfpack players thought that would work in Western Christian’s favor.
“They had a young team coming in and we thought we would out-experience them,” said junior post Ashtyn Veerbeek.
Instead, the Lynx gave the Wolfpack a battle from the opening tip. Western Christian held a 5-2 lead following a 3-pointer from the right wing by Erika Feenstra, but North Linn stormed back with two-straight layups to give the Lynx a 6-5 advantage.
The Wolfpack countered with a layup and a 3-pointer by Feenstra for a 4-point lead, but a 2-3 zone defense by the Lynx made it tough to score the rest of the way and the quarter ended in a 15-15 tie. Western Christian held a 23-21 lead following a jump shot from the left baseline by Veerbeek to start the second period, but the Lynx punched right back with a 3-pointer. That 3 quickly increased to a 9-0 Lynx run, before Jessi DeJager ended the half with a 15-footer from the left baseline to make the score 29-26 at intermission.
“They came out with a lot of fire and that was good for us to get punched in the throat right away,” Veerbeek said. “The first half was tough inside. They really had a lot of girls down there (in the 2-3 zone). But when we kicked it out to Erika Feenstra, she hit the shots.”
Coach Justin Negen said Feenstra’s play in the first 16 minutes allowed Western Christian to stay in the game. She ended the first half with 16 points. Veerbeek ended the first half with 8.
“I give them a lot of credit. They made it hard for Ashtyn to get clean looks in the first half. For us to even stick around, we needed someone to step up and Erika, man, she was really good,” Negen said. “She knocked down a couple of big shots and got herself to the rim a couple of times. Awesome first half for her.”
Negen felt his team just needed to stick to the game plan and they could advance to Thursday’s semi-final against top-ranked Iowa City Regina.
“We talked about just being aggressive, being true to who we are and what we’ve done all season. To have trust in each other and just leave everything on the floor,” Negen said.
Veerbeek got the ball rolling to start the third period, hitting two free throws and a layup in transition to give the Wolfpack a 30-29 edge. The Lynx clawed back and tied the game at 32 with 5:29 in the frame, before a 3-pointer gave North Linn its first lead of the half at 35-32. That lead stayed for the remainder of the quarter and the Lynx took a 40-37 advantage into the final eight minutes of play.
Once again, Western Christian got a good start, getting a layup from the post by Veerbeek and a 3-pointer by Karsyn Winterfeld from the left wing (her first points of the game) to give the Wolfpack a 42-40 lead with 6:50 to play.
It was after that 3-pointer by Winterfeld when Western Christian felt the momentum start to shift in its favor.
“I was missing them, but I knew I had to keep shooting them. My coach (Negen) also told me that even if I miss, there is somebody there to rebound them,” Winterfeld said. “It felt good (to make it) because I was starting to lose my confidence. Now it was like ‘Yes, now we get to play defense. Let’s get a stop, let’s keep rolling and finish the game’.”
North Linn crawled back to tie the game at 42 with two free throws, but a long jump shot by Veerbeek and a put-back by DeJager gave the lead back to Western Christian at 46-42 with 4:41 to play. The Lynx cut the deficit back to 2 with two more free throws, but a free throw by Veerbeek and another 3-pointer by DeJager from the left wing gave the Wolfpack their biggest lead of the game at 50-44. That 3-pointer proved to be the final nail in the coffin for North Linn. The Lynx got as close as 50-45, but that was all the nearer they would get as Veerbeek’s 6-for-6 shooting from the free-throw line led to the 10-point victory.
“Those fourth-quarter 3s were huge. They were timely,” Negen said. “I’m so proud of those kids for stepping up and knocking them down. In the end we got the ball into Ashtyn’s hands and she made free throws.”
Western Christian was glad to have another opportunity to play a state tournament game.
“It’s awesome to be able to stay here all week and to play again. That’s what we came here for and we’re just so excited,” Veerbeek said.
But the semi-final game might prove to be a tough one. The top-ranked Regals came into the tournament with an undefeated 25-0 record and defeated Logan-Magnolia 67-54 in the quarterfinals.
“They’re an excellent basketball team. They started the year No. 1 and they haven’t lost a game all season,” Negen said. “That (Mary) Crompton kid can shoot the ball like crazy (57.6 percent shooting from the field and 49.3 percent from the 3-point line) and they’ve got a nice inside game. So we know it’s going to be a big challenge, but we get to play another day and that’s awesome.”
Winterfeld said if the Wolfpack stick to their defensive game plan they may pull off the upset.
“They (Iowa City-Regina) hit a lot of 3s and they are quick, so we’re going to have to come out strong. But we like to focus on defense because if our defense is flowing, our offense will follow,” she said.
Western Christian went 19-46 from the field for 41 percent and was 5-of-17 for 29 percent from the 3-point line as a team. The Wolfpack also shot 15-of-22 for 68 percent from the free-throw line.
Points:Ashtyn Veerbeek 24, Erika Feenstra 18, Jessi DeJager 10
Rebounds:Ashtyn Veerbeek 19, Janae Wynja 5
Assists:Erica Bousema 5
Steals:Jessi Dejager 2
Blocks:Jessi DeJager 1, Ashtyn Veerbeek 1