The IMS girls took down the English Valleys Bears 48-47 and advance to the Regional Semi-Finals for the first time since the 2013-2014 season.
IMS got off to a slow start in the first quarter while the Bears brought the offensive attack right off the tip. English Valleys stormed out to an early lead and left IMS down 7-12 after the first quarter of play. During the opening minutes of the second the Bears pounded the ball inside and took a 10-point lead which forced an IMS timeout. “Their bigs gave us fits inside through the opening 12 minutes of play,” IMS head coach Kari Heusinkveld said. “We weren’t taking care of individual assignments well enough and allowed too many drives for open dishes at the basket.” IMS made the necessary adjustments following the timeout and closed out the half down 19-27.
“Going into the locker room down eight at the half is pretty familiar territory for us,” Heusinkveld said. “The girls were focused during halftime as we made adjustments for both ends of the floor. Offensively we needed to attack the basket more in the half court and use some ball fakes, but we felt some of our best offense could come from our transition game.”
IMS gave up a three at the start of the third, but Suzanna Yoder answered with a three of her own. A Yani Gutierrez-Larios rebound and outlet led to a Yoder transition bucket, but the Bears answered with a bucket inside. IMS picked up yet another transition bucket off a Yoder drive and dish to Alyssa Hershberger which sparked new life into the small squad. IMS went on a 13-2 run over the next seven minutes of play and stormed back to take their first lead at 33-32 off an Avery Blauvelt feed to Hershberger during the opening minutes of the fourth.
The fourth quarter was a showdown with nine lead changes and every possession grew more important with time winding down. The final lead change of the night came when Yoder was fouled on a drive to the basket with 1:48 left and knocked down two free throws to give IMS the 42-41 edge. On the ensuing possession IMS extended its guard pressure on the perimeter and Yoder came up with a steal that led to a fast break. Though she missed the well contested layup Blauvelt was there with the follow up to give IMS a 44-41 lead. The girls hustled back on defense and on an English Valleys pass from the wing inside to the post, Payton Hart came over on a double team and knocked the ball loose. Hershberger picked up the loose ball and found Yoder who went the full length of the court and drew another foul that sent her back to the free throw line. With 1:17 to play Yoder knocked down two free throws to give IMS a 46-41 lead, its largest of the night. But the game wasn’t over yet.
The Bears continued to fight and on the following possession moved the ball quickly around the perimeter to find an open girl for three, trimming the IMS lead to 46-44. With 53.6 seconds remaining English Valleys called its final timeout of the game and IMS talked strategy on the sideline. IMS safely inbounded the ball to Yoder who pushed up the court and found Hershberger. IMS ran the clock down to 21.6 seconds before needing to use a timeout to secure the ball and drew up one last sideline set. On the inbound Yoder secured the ball and split two defenders for a wide open layup to give IMS a 48-44 advantage. The Bears pushed up the court and managed to hit a well-contested three with 5-seconds left but IMS held on for the upset.
“This was a solid team win and to be able to do it in front of a great crowd was exciting, our fans were awesome,” Heusinkveld said. “We’ve been in quite a few games this season that came down to the final few minutes of play. Being in those situations during the regular season helped prepare us for closing out games when it matters most. Our composure was excellent, we didn’t let anything rattle us. Our starters came up with big plays down the stretch, but Meredith Blossom and Angela Marcelino came off the bench tonight and gave us great minutes. This was a great win for our program.”
Yoder led all scorers with 29 points, four assists and five steals. Hershberger added 12 points while Blauvelt chipped in four points to go with an assist, two steals and five rebounds. Gutierrez-Larios rounded out the scoring with a three and seven rebounds. Hart pulled down five boards to go with an assist and a steal.
IMS heads to the Regional Semi-Finals in New Sharon on Friday, February 16th where they will face No. 3 ranked North Mahaska. Tipoff is set for 7pm.