DES MOINES -- Willow Bleeker's contributions to the Sioux Center girls basketball team go well beyond a stat sheet.
Just ask her head coach, who considers the senior guard the heart-and-soul of his squad.
"She does the little things on the floor," Doug Winterfeld said. "She just takes control down the stretch. She wants the ball in her hands. She's that stability on the floor that everybody looks at and says, 'Oh, yeah, Willow's got it. Willow's going to get us where we need to go.' "
The 5-foot-8-inch floor general helped take Sioux Center to the promised land Friday night, as the Warriors captured the school's first state championship.
In the historic 62-47 win over Benton Community in the Class 3A finals, Bleeker finished with 17 points, three assists, three rebounds and two steals. The point guard committed just two turnovers while playing all but three minutes of the game.
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Her stellar performance throughout the three-day state meet in Des Moines led to her selection as the Class 3A All-Tournament Team captain.
Joining Bleeker on the All-Tournament team was her teammate Tatum Schmalbeck.
Schmalbeck, who came into the finals averaging 7.9 points per game, exploded for 16 Friday night, with nine coming on three timely shots from downtown.
"She isn't afraid to take the big shot," Winterfeld said. "She's got the green light."
The senior guard's final three-pointer put Sioux Center up 50-34 with 3:53 left in the game. Benton never got closer than 12 points the rest of the contest, as the Warriors hit some late free throws to seal the win.
The final horn set off a jubilent celebration by Sioux Center players, who formed a dogpile on the court at Wells Fargo Arena and shared hugs and shed tears of happiness.
"It was an entire team effort, throughout the entire game," Bleeker told the crowd in a live post-game televised interview.
Bobcats tamed by the 'scramble'
The two teams entered the championship game boasting top defenses, with Benton holding opponents to an average of 38.3 points per game and Sioux Center permitting only 45.6 per contest.
Sioux Center's defense proved more potent Friday night, holding Benton to 36.2% shooting in the game. Jenne Twedt, the Bobcat's leading scorer, finished with a team-high 21 points, but was just 8-of-23 from the field, including 3-of-11 from three-point range.
The Warriors' zone defense, which the team calls the "scramble," frustrated Twedt and her teammates, as the Bobcats scored just 27 points through the first three quarters.
"She's an awesome player. She creates for her team," Bleeker said of Twedt. "We knew she likes to drive, she likes to attack. So putting pressure on her helped us. She was forced to kick it out or put up a different shot than she was used to."
Bleeker, whose quick hands and feet repeatedly disrupted the Bobcats' offense, said the Warriors play "all-out" on defense, constantly hustling to the perimeter or the corners/
"A player is never out of position, just because we don't know where they are going to be or where they need to be or anything like that," Winterfeld said. "We are playing passing lanes and being super aggressive with it."
From lopsided loss to champions
The triumph completed a Cinderalla-like run for Sioux Center, which entered the eight-team tournament as only the sixth seed. The Warriors blasted third-seed West Marshall, 79-53, in the quarterfinals and nipped second seed Solon, 46-44, in the semifinals.
Some experts may have overlooked the Warriors because of their five regular season losses. But four of those defeats came vs. Siouxland Conference rivals Central Lyon and Sibley-Ocheyedan, who each reached the Class 2A semifinals this week. Undefeated Central Lyon will play for a state title Saturday.
The Warriors' other loss was a 30-point blowout at home to conference foe West Lyon.
"That's the game that propelled this team to where they're at tonight," Winterfeld said. "Our girls decided after that game that wasn't how we wanted to play. We took Central Lyon into overtime two days later, with no practice in between. You have to give the girls a lot of credit."
A win over conference rival Boyden-Hull in the last regular season game also provided a valuable lesson, he said.
Bleeker, Sioux Center's leading scorer with a 12.2 points per game average, was held scoreless against the Comets.
"But her teammates stepped up. We still put up 67 points," the coach said. "It was frustrating for her. But down the road, it actually helped us because now her teammates knew they could do it."
Schmalbeck scored 20 points in the Boyden-Hull win, Winterfeld noted. The performance gave the senior added confidence that led to her memorable performance in Friday's title game.
In the second quarter, Schmalbeck scored eight points that fueled a 12-8 runs. She nailed two, three-pointers midway through the quarter and then hit a two-point jumper that gave the Warriors its first double-digit lead, 24-14, with 44 seconds left in the period.
Benton's Emma Townsley answered with a jumper in the lane with 27 seconds to play that cut the deficit to 24-18 at the half.
In the second half, the Warriors stretched their lead to double-digits on multiple occasions. Completing a coast-to-coast drive, Schmalbeck scored on a scoop shot and drew the foul. She completed the traditional three-point play to put the Warriors up 35-22 with 2:28 left in the third.
"I just do whatever my team needs to help us succeed," Schmalbeck said. "If I need to execute those shots, I was glad I could get those to fall for my tam tonight."
The 5-foot-7-inch senior credited her father Ryan and her coaches for helping refine her shot.
"We worked on some things that really helped me grow as a shooter," she said. "I could see the benefits of that this season."
During the season, the Warriors developed strong depth, with six players -- Margo Schuiteman, Makenna Walhof, Cori Harald, Makailyn Vander Waal, Schmalbeck and Bleeker -- averaging six or more points per game. In Friday night's win, Winterfeld rotated eight players in and out of the game. The exception was Bleeker, the three-year starter and senior leader, who will stay in Sioux Center to play for the Dordt University women's basketball team next season.
"I just know that I have to be a leader out there, either vocally or just giving a pat on the butt, helping them gain confidence and trying to get them open, all those little things that helped us become champs," she said.