MAPLETON, Iowa | When I see an intense classic, I feel like sharing. Watched one Wednesday in Mapleton.
West Sioux won the basketball game, 58-54, coming from behind to trip IKM-Manning in a Class 2A Regional final. The victory sends West Sioux to next week's state tournament.
Emma Mace, Josie McKee and Katey Koopmans played all 32 minutes for the Falcons, doing everything they could to defend while withstanding the pressure of a powerful press utilized by Coach Gene Rasmussen and his IKM-Manning Wolves. It led me to wonder if Mace, McKee and Koopmans each had a spare lung they tapped for the fourth quarter.
"They were tired at the end, believe me," said West Sioux's Adam McVay, the second-year Falcon head coach. "I'll be hearing about it at practice today."
I called McVay after his regimen of history classes at West Sioux High School concluded on Thursday. I congratulated him on his first state-tournament bid while expressing my gratitude for what his players did on Wednesday night: They battled constantly for four quarters and, along with the Wolves, gave those present a wonderful show, high school competition at its level best.
I asked McVay if he felt the game slipping in IKM-Manning's favor at any point. He did. He took a timeout with his team trailing 19-14 early in the second quarter, on the wrong end of a 5-0 scoring run.
"I told our kids that we either had to stop their lead and cut into it, or they'd (the Wolves) would push the lead to 10 or 15 points," he said.
Then, in minutes, McVay's club battled foul trouble as forwards Abbie Ericson and Payton Schwiesow picked up their second fouls and both took a seat on the bench temporarily.
As the lead grew slightly to seven, McVay reinserted his starters. Schwiesow picked up her third foul before halftime, but at least the damage wasn't more. West Sioux had trimmed the lead to a manageable four points by the break.
Schwiesow netted the night's biggest shot when she drilled a 3-pointer from the right baseline, giving West Sioux its first lead since the opening quarter. The 50-48 cushion grew to 52-49 in 30 seconds before Ericson, West Sioux's top scorer with 18 points, fouled out with 2:40 remaining in the game.
McVay calmly turned to sophomore post Meghan Danielson to replace Ericson. I remembered Danielson playing a couple of minutes in the first half. In her first possession, a pass zipped through her hands. "The big stage might have caught up with her at that point," McVay said.
It didn't this time, however. With 43 seconds left and IKM-Manning trailing by one, the Wolves had two field goal attempts to take the lead. Both missed. West Sioux corralled the rebound, pushed the ball ahead to play-maker Koopmans, who looked up to Danielson and connected with the backup post, resulting in a left-handed layup and a three-point lead with just over 10 seconds remaining.
After the Wolves misfired on their ensuing possession, Danielson snared the board, got fouled and swished one free throw with 1.8 seconds left, securing the triumph.
After the buzzer sounded, the Falcons hugged one another and congratulated IKM-Manning on a great game. Players gathered to cut down the nets, a tradition for any team heading to the state tournament. As I moved toward the doors to depart, I caught a glimpse of Taylor Rodenburgh, clad in sweat pants and sweatshirt, scaling the ladder. Rodenburgh, eyes red with tears, cut a strand from the cotton. The moment had to be huge for her, a senior who has missed her final high school campaign due to a torn knee ligament.
"Taylor has been at every practice, every game," McVay said of Rodenburgh, a guard who topped the team in points, rebounds and steals one year ago. "She's been on the bench with us and seeing things from a coach's perspective. She's been a great teammate the whole way through."
On Wednesday, her peers returned the favor, as they've done the whole way through this 21-3 season, forging ahead without their go-to guard, leaning on McVay and a mix of skill and grit. And, for three of those starters, a spare lung, I swear.