DES MOINES – They had to grind out a 65-57 victory over Monticello in a physical semifinal here Thursday night, but the Sioux Center Warriors are back in the Iowa Girls State Tournament Class 3A championship.
Saturday’s 3 p.m. finale at Wells Fargo Arena will pit the second-ranked Warriors (24-2) against No. 1 Crestwood (25-0) in a dream matchup for all the marbles.
Crestwood rolled to a 72-48 win over North Polk in the other semifinal game Thursday.
All-stater Lexi Toering led a balanced attack for Sioux Center with 18 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and three steals. The Warriors are in the title game for the second consecutive season and hoping the outcome this time around will be different than last when they fell to Pocahontas Area.
Sioux Center answered every challenge from No. 9 Monticello, with Toering and Victoria Rensink making perhaps the biggest plays of the game.
It appeared the Warriors were safe with a 45-35 advantage midway through the third quarter, but Monticello refused to buckle and pulled within 53-51 when 6-foot-2 sophomore Jordan Kuper intercepted a pass and drove the length of the floor for a layup with just under three minutes left in the game.
Toering answered with her third 3-pointer of the game, canning one from the corner after the Warriors hustled for a rebound on a missed 3-point shot. Toering then got a steal that led to a putback by Rensink, giving Sioux Center a 58-51 lead.
Monticello’s Taylor McDonald, who led all scorers with 26 points, threw in a long 3-pointer, but Rensink countered with a trey from deep in the corner. Toering then swiped the ball again and fed Rensink for a layup, putting the Warriors in front 63-54 with 1:22 remaining.
“It was a battle, all the Monticello players put up a really good fight,” said Toering, who will play basketball at Northwestern College. “They’re a good team, very scrappy, No. 11 (McDonald) in particular. She kept taking it at us, having to make us work and they moved the ball well on offense.
“We’ve been dreaming of this since we were little things, we’ve all been together forever and talked about a state title for a very long time. We have to come and do what we know how to do and play as hard as we can.”
Shayla Post hit three more of Sioux Center’s 11 3-pointers and finished with 14 points, while Rensink (eight rebounds) and Jordyn Van Maanen chipped in 13 points each.
“Our last two games we’ve come out and played really well the first three to five minutes and got that sizeable lead,” Sioux Center Coach Doug Winterfeld said.”As a coach you know that’s not going to happen every night and tonight was that night and we were playing a very good team.
“It was a battle all night, they gave us everything we wanted. They got up into us and made things difficult for us. When our backs were against the wall in the second half our girls really stepped up and showed some character and what they’re made of.”
Sioux Center led 15-14 after one quarter and stretched it to 38-31 at halftime. After a third quarter in which neither team scored the final three minutes, the Warriors had a 45-40 advantage.
“In practicing for this game we put 10 people on the floor to work against what is superior athleticism,” Monticello Coach Donnie Kremer said. “I think we held our own and went toe-to-toe with them from beginning to end and I couldn’t be prouder of how my girls played.
“Every time we seemed to get the game to three or four points they always had an answer with a 3-pointer, a big rebound and a steal. But I couldn’t be more proud of our effort. We had to beat some excellent teams to get here.”
Monticello (20-6) knocked off fourth-ranked and unbeaten Osage 59-33 in a regional final and upended fifth-ranked Clear Lake 61-50 in a state quarterfinal.
“I thought both games we played down here were our best of the season, so I can’t fault our effort,” Kremer said. “But Sioux Center would knock down a 3 or make a steal at crucial times and that’s what good teams do. They move the ball so well.”
Sioux Center shot only 40 percent from the field, but made 11 of 26 3-pointers and scored 23 points off 17 Monticello turnovers. Despite a decided height disadvantage, the Warriors battled to even terms on the boards, 37-37.
“It’s a long road to get to the championship game and back-to-back is something our girls have wanted,” Winterfeld said. “I’m proud of how the girls have handled the pressure because after you’re there one year everybody is after you. There is a lot more pressure this year than there was last year even though we were unbeaten.”