Kimball's free-throw shooting lifts Washington over Keokuk
After Keokuk had trimmed Washington’s lead from 13 points to just three with a little over a minute remaining in Saturday’s Class 3A Region 4 semifinal, senior Lauren Kimball went to the free-throw line with the words of her father, Brad, echoing through her mind.
“I know my dad’s always told me to take a deep breath and shoot a smooth shot,” Kimball said. “I just shot a smooth shot and made them.”
Kimball, who had struggled at the free-throw line earlier in the season, went 6-for-6 from the foul line over the final 1:11 of the game to help the Demons hold off the Chiefs for a 59-52 win.
“They got it into the hands of Kimball, who knocked some free throws down,” Keokuk head coach Mike Davis said. “She did a great job of hitting her free throws, and she ended up icing it from the free-throw line.”
That’s something that might not have happened earlier in the season. Through Washington’s first 10 games this season, Kimball was a mere 51 percent from the free-throw line. But she’s been hitting 74 percent of her foul shots over the Demons’ last 11 games, and she was a perfect 10-for-10 from the line in Saturday’s game.
“I spent a lot of time in the gym just shooting free throws over and over and over,” she said. “My dad has come in with me and Kyle [Roder] has come in with me. I knew I’d struggled, and I had to change.”
Kimball finished with 14 points to lead the Demons, who advance to Tuesday’s regional final against fifth-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier (14-9) at Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School. Junior Grace Redlinger came off the Washington bench to add 13 points, and seniors Johannah Vittetoe and Beth Dillon had eight points apiece.
Washington (14-7) advances to the regional final for the fourth time in five years. But the Demons are looking for their first state tournament berth since 2002.
“I told the girls after the game that I think other than the 15 girls in that room and my coaches, no one believed we could get back to the regional final again this year,” Washington head coach Phil Long said. “To go and get in a regional final again, I think this is the third one for our seniors, going back to their freshman year, I’m really proud of this bunch of midgets I’ve got.”
Keokuk, which finished its season with a record of 12-11, lost in spite of a huge game from senior Rachel Dunlap, who finished with a game-high 22 points and 18 rebounds. After Washington went on a 9-0 run to open up a 48-35 lead with four minutes remaining, Dunlap answered with five straight points to spark a 13-3 run that pulled the Chiefs within three.
“I just wanted to get every loose ball I could and get those easy baskets,” Dunlap said. “I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team out.”
Keokuk sophomore Lakyn Boltz came off a double screen to hit a 3-pointer with 1:15 remaining that trimmed Washington’s lead to three, and it started to look a lot like last year’s regional semifinal, when the Chiefs rallied from a 35-22 deficit late in the third quarter to shock the Demons 48-44. But Kimball, who was fighting through the stomach flu, stepped up and made the free throws to seal the win for her team.
“That was kind of scary when they [came back], but we knew it was going to be a game of runs,” she said. “We just had to keep our composure and keep going at them.”