ORANGE CITY, Iowa — West Lyon stuck to its game plan and as a result will be heading to the Iowa Girls State Basketball Tournament.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats are well-known for their defensive prowess, having allowed just over 33 points per game this season.
So even when its back was against the wall, West Lyon dug deep, rallying past Sioux City Bishop Heelan 47-41 in a 3A regional final Saturday at MOC-Floyd Valley High School.
West Lyon trailed at both halftime and the end of the third quarter, but managed to prevail and secure the school’s first state berth since the 1997-98 season.
“Before the game we told them you’re going to turn it over and miss some shots, so expect that and then pick each other up,” West Lyon coach Ryan Brasser said. “At halftime I told them we made mental mistakes but not physical mistakes, let’s go out, bust the door down and make mistakes going 100 percent. There were mistakes, but they battled their butts off and made enough plays when it mattered.”
West Lyon won its 22nd straight since a season-opening loss to arch-rival Central Lyon. The Wildcats play West Burlington (21-1) at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 1 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Heelan’s season came to an end with a 17-6 record, but the defending state champions didn’t go down without a fight.
The Crusaders, in fact, had a 31-26 lead with just over three minutes left in the third quarter. West Lyon trimmed it to a point by the end of the quarter, then outscored Heelan 14-7 in the final eight minutes.
“We saw some lanes and told Kennedy (Kramer) to be more aggressive to the basket,” Brasser said. “We got them into a little foul trouble which got us to the free throw line and we capitalized there. Just overall, relying on each other, being patient and let the game come to you.”
It helps to have a player of Brooklyn Meyer’s stature.
Meyer, a 6-2 junior, scored 24 points, pulled down nine rebounds and blocked three shots. Meyer made her last eight free throws after missing her first four and West Lyon was 13-for-19 from the line in the second half.
“We knew we would have to take care of the ball, make our shots, play good defense, limit them to one shot and that’s what we did in the second half,” Meyer said. “We just kept talking about picking each other up.
“We’ve all been dreaming about this since we were little and now it’s coming true. It’s awesome.”
West Lyon made it all the way to the Class 2A state championship the last time it made the trip, falling to New London.
Meyer had two quick baskets and Kennedy Kramer a layup and two free throws as the Wildcats went on an 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter.
Heelan didn’t score until midway through the stanza and by that time trailed by four points. The Crusaders missed a couple of close range shots that would have cut further into the deficit.
“I said it was going to be a tight game late, all we have to do is give ourselves a chance,” Heelan coach Jay Wright said. “We had some good looks, we missed six shots in the lane. But give them credit, they have a pretty good player sitting there trying to block shots. But I can’t ask for more effort than that.
“We knew we had to be physical because we’re not a very big team. And we got into foul trouble, but that’s a risk you have to take.”
Kramer, who added 11 points and Mallory Gramstad each had a basket and two free throws in the fourth quarter. Gramstad finished with nine points for the Wildcats, who made seven free throws in the final five minutes.
“The funny thing is there are two or three moms in the crowd who were playing the last time we went to state,” Brasser said. “This is a whole community win, it’s not just a girls basketball win. We’re so happy for the girls to be able to experience this.
“I thought we showed our composure the second half. We told them at some point we would have battle through. It comes together with having a lot of veteran experience. All year long they’ve never been too high or too low and have continued to put in the work.”
West Lyon clung to a 9-7 lead after one quarter. Heelan nailed four 3-pointers in the second quarter, forging a 20-18 advantage.
Freshman Brooklyn Stanley paced the youthful Crusaders with 14 points, while sophomore Lauryn Peck chipped in 10 points.
It was a remarkable first season for Heelan under Wright, who took over for Darron Koolstra. The Crusaders had to retool after losing all five starters off a state championship squad and did so with a roster which included just three seniors.