Will face West Burlington for the 3rd time this year on Wednesday in WB.
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – It wasn’t known until about 3 minutes left in the third quarter whether Central Lee’s season would end Saturday or not.
But with 3:24 left in the 3rd and Mya Merschman, the state’s leading scorer, on the floor with three fouls. Things didn’t look good.
Then Merschman sank a free throw, only her fourth point of the night. Her second free throw missed, but junior Alivia Myhre slipped behind Mid-Prairie’s Alyssa McDowell for a rebound and put-back along the baseline to light the Lady Hawks wick.
From then on it was all Central Lee as the Hawks’ (7-6, 13-8) downed the Golden Hawks 49-41 to advance out of the Class 3A Region 8 quarterfinal.
Following the made basket, the Hawks went into a 1-2-2 press and forced back-to-back turnovers. Merschman, who would finish with 20 on the night, after just one 3-pointer in the first half, would score off a Mid-Prairie turnover. Makayla Morrison would then create a steal at half court and race in for another bucket.
That series erased a 17-22 Golden Hawk lead in the third.
Mid-Prairie would get one more lead just into the 4th quarter at 30-29 when Phelan Hostetler would score inside and get fouled. She would miss the freebie and then Central Lee would go on a 8-1 run capped by a couple of Merschman free throws.
Hostetler would score inside again, and get fouled again, and would miss again – cutting the lead to four at 37-33.
Central would push the lead with Merschman repeatedly going to the free throw line hitting seven of eight down the stretch to put the game away.
The senior said she had to get back in the game despite playing with foul trouble, picking up her third just before the end of the first half.
“I was like – I have to do something otherwise this is not gonna be good. So I told myself to try and stay out of foul trouble as best I could, which worked and then I started scoring, which opened up my teammates and they started scoring,” Merschman said.
Head Coach Jay Baldwin said the message at halftime was not getting Merschman more touches, but playing solid defense.
“We told them that defense was going to win the game. We’ve been preaching that all year,” he said. “We’re not going to make every shot we shoot, but if we play good defense good things happen.”
He said the 1-2-2 press was a little wrinkle he threw in the second half to compliment some early half court pressure the Hawks utilized.
“We wanted to see how they handled our pressure. It’s like a boxing match, you kinda punch at each other and then in the second half we would throw a couple wrinkles at them.”
Baldwin said it was a great team win and some of the more crucial moments weren’t in the stat sheet.
“I thought Ella (Sanders) played a heck of game and did some things that you don’t realize,” Baldwin said. “Mid-Prairie has some big girls and Ella was able to go in there against them.”
In the third period with Central up by just two, Sanders went baseline around a Golden Hawk and got caught up in the lane, but then whipped a pass back out to the top of the key where Myhre buried a 3-ball for a five-point advantage.
“It was a just a great team win tonight,” Baldwin said.
Myhre finished with 13 on the night, while Morrison had nine, Macy Watkins had five and Sanders finished with a couple key free throws down the stretch to help seal the win.
The Hawks now get a third shot at West Burlington, who dismantled Albia (6-14) 62-27 in West Burlington Saturday afternoon.
The two will face off Wednesday at 7 p.m. in West Burlington’s gym.
The Lady Falcons already own two wins over Central Lee, a 59-46 affair on Dec. 4 and a 59-44 win on Jan. 15
“They’re good. Hopefully we can stay on the court with them. We’ve won seven out of eight now so I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Baldwin said. “Who knows, we’ll see.”