Star struckJitters and MOC-Floyd Valley overcome Mid-Prairie in state quarterfinals
DES MOINES — The bright lights of Wells Fargo Arena may have been too much for No. 13 Mid-Prairie.
The Golden Hawks, playing at the girls’ state basketball tournament for the first time since 2004, struggled with the new environment, falling behind second-ranked MOC-Floyd Valley 16-5 after one quarter of Tuesday’s Class 3A quarterfinal game.
From there, Mid-Prairie could never get any closer than six points, and the Lady Dutch won 51-30.
“I think our nerves just got to us,” Mid-Prairie senior Mallory McArtor said. “It’s a new gym and a new experience.”
MOC-Floyd Valley senior Rylee Yaw sank a 3-pointer just seconds into the game, and Mid-Prairie senior Jessie Butters answered with a layup at the other end. But then the Lady Dutch went on a 13-1 run to open up a 16-3 lead late in the first quarter. Each of MOC-Floyd Valley’s five starters scored in the first quarter as the Lady Dutch opened up a double-digit lead.
“I just think that shows that we’ve worked really hard and everyone is confident with the ball,” MOC-Floyd Valley junior Alexis Conaway said. “It really helps having five players on the court who are confident enough to score and play defense. That helps us a lot in these games.”
Mid-Prairie senior Mariah Swartzentruber hit a pull-up jumper with 55 seconds left in the first quarter, but the Golden Hawks trailed by 11 after eight minutes of play.
“It was 16-5, and I thought it could have been worse,” Mid-Prairie head coach Marc Pennington said. “We just never got into a flow offensively at all in the first quarter.”
A lot of that had to do with MOC-Floyd Valley’s height. Conaway is a 6-foot point guard, and the Lady Dutch also had a 6-foot center, junior Emily McDonald, roaming the paint.
“It was a little discouraging to even attempt to go into the lane to get a shot off because you knew they were going to be waiting there to block your shot,” Mid-Prairie senior Erika Murphy said.
With the paint clogged, the Golden Hawks were forced to shoot from the perimeter, and they struggled. Mid-Prairie shot just 10-for-40 from the field and 0-for-8 from 3-point range in the contest.
“Shots fall some nights. Sometimes they don’t. Tonight wasn’t ours,” said Swartzentruber, who finished with four points on 2-for-12 shooting.
Mid-Prairie opened the second quarter by making three of four free throws, and then Swartzentruber hit another jumper to pull the Golden Hawks within 16-10. But the Lady Dutch quickly pushed their lead back to 10 points, and the lead hovered around 10 until the fourth quarter.
“We got behind a little bit, and it’s really hard to come back when you’re behind, especially against a team when you’re looking up at them the whole time, literally,” Murphy said.
Mid-Prairie trailed by as many as 14 points in the third quarter, but Murphy put back a missed shot and made one of two free throws to pull the Golden Hawks to within nine points going into the fourth quarter. But Conaway grabbed an offensive rebound and scored an old-fashioned three-point play to open the final stanza, and the Lady Dutch pulled away down the stretch.
“You’ve got to give the kids credit,” Pennington said. “They fought. We knew they would. They did all year. I’m just really, really proud of them.”
McArtor finished with 10 points to lead Mid-Prairie, and Murphy added nine. McArtor, Murphy, Swartzentruber and Butters — along with fellow seniors Meghan Redlinger, Kattie Redlinger, Olivia Lugar, Spenser Becker and Hannah Ball — will all graduate.
“I could write a book about this group. They’re the neatest kids I ever had the pleasure to coach,” Pennington said, choking up a bit as he spoke. “To every one of them, they’re very special to me. Like I told them in the locker room, besides my own three kids, they’re all my family. What they gave to our program, to me personally and my family, and to our school and our community, there’s a lot to be proud of.”
Conaway finished with a game-high 17 points, and she also had 11 rebounds for MOC-Floyd Valley. McDonald added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Lady Dutch, who out-rebounded the Golden Hawks 36-27.
“I think in the second half we out-rebounded them by 14 and we had 13 offensive rebounds,” MOC-Floyd Valley head coach Gary Richardson said. “I think that was the difference. You get down here and you’ve got to play defense and you’ve got to rebound because sometimes it looks like it did today, kind of fragmented and ugly in the first-round game.”
MOC-Floyd Valley (24-1) advances to Thursday’s semifinal against third-ranked Estherville-Lincoln Center (22-3), which defeated Spirit Lake 55-39 on Tuesday. The Golden Hawks finish their season with a record of 18-8, but weren’t deterred following the loss.
“As kids we remember going up in ‘04 and cheering on the team [at state],” McArtor said. “Now it’s exciting because we’re that team now. Everyone got to come watch us.”
But the Golden Hawks struggled with playing on the state’s biggest stage in the opening minutes of the game, and it put them in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
“I think we just had a little bit too much emotion,” Murphy said.