ELK HORN, Iowa — This really is the final score.
Tom Petersen made that clear when calling in his result to the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union on Tuesday night. After all, the Exira-EHK coach hasn't been part of many girls basketball wins when scoring fewer than 30 points.
Neither the Spartans nor Heartland Christian found much of a shooting rhythm in their Class 1-A, Region 8 quarterfinal. But Exira rode its defense to a 28-24 home victory to keep its season alive — albeit in unsightly fashion.
“I don't think I've ever seen a team be so cold in all my life,” Petersen said. “However, we get to move forward.”
Exira (18-5) posted a season-low in points, shooting 10 of 42 from the field (23.8 percent) and missing 18 of 20 3-point tries. Yet it led almost the entire way after spotting its Council Bluffs opponent a 2-0 lead to start the game.
Heartland (12-11) had two looks at treys in the final minute down 26-24. Both caromed away. The visitors got another chance when Exira missed the front end of a one-and-one, but they followed up with a turnover.
Chansea Nelson converted a pair of free throws to open a four-point Exira lead with 38 seconds left, and the Eagles coughed up the ball again to all but end their first full varsity season.
“We didn't play terrible; you hold a team to 28 points, you're in the game,” Heartland coach Robert Cunard said. “A couple bounces here or there or a couple shots falling that normally fall ...”
“I was proud of them. It wasn't like we didn't belong here, so that was the nice thing about it.”
No. 4 Ar-We-Va (19-3) is next in a semifinal game Friday at 7 p.m. in Denison.
Exira's inverted triangle defense hounded Steffi and Molly Cunard all night. One game after the sisters combined for 56 points in their postseason win over West Harrison, they totaled 17 Tuesday. Steffi in particular never found an opening, as the Spartans' Sydney Parker, Morgan Huegerich, Claire Paulsen and Brenna Juelsgaard took turns pairing up to guard her at all times.
The result was the Eagles' second-lowest scoring outing of the year.
“We just don't have the athletes right now to do a lot of the things we've done in the past,” Petersen said. “But the kids played well on defense, and obviously that's the reason why we won.
“In order for us to be successful, two words: Win ugly.”
Sophomore guard Rachel Smith led the Spartans with 10 points, but even that came on 3-of-17 shooting. Nelson added eight, including a key layup on a feed from Huegerich with 4:02 to play to make it 26-22.
It was the last field goal either side would get the rest of the way.
“I didn't expect it to be such a low-scoring game,” Nelson said. “We weren't shooting our best. It gets in your head, but you're supposed to forget it and keep shooting.”
Molly Cunard posted a game-high 13 points while Heartland's lone senior, Petra Gray, finished with five. The Council Bluffs team went 0 of 11 from long range as part of a 9-for-41 performance overall.
“They're obviously dejected, but proud of themselves,” Robert Cunard said. “(Exira's) defensive scheme obviously won it for them.”
Heartland Christian (12-11) ................. 3 10 3 8—24
Exira-EHK (18-5) ................. 8 7 5 8—28
HC: Katie Fouts 1-5 0-0 2, Payton Riche 0-3 0-0 0, Petra Gray 2-6 1-2 5, Steffi Cunard 1-11 2-3 4, Molly Cunard 5-16 3-4 13. Totals: 9-41 6-9 24.
E: Claire Paulsen 1-6 1-2 3, Rachel Smith 3-17 2-2 10, Sydney Parker 2-2 0-0 4, Morgan Huegerich 1-6 0-1 2, Chansea Nelson 3-7 2-2 8, Kennedy Madsen 0-2 1-2 1, Taylor Paulsen 0-1 0-0 0, Brenna Juelsgaard 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 10-42 6-9 28.
3-point goals: HC 0-11 (Gray 0-1, Steffi Cunard 0-4, Molly Cunard 0-6), E 2-20 (Claire Paulsen 0-4, Smith 2-12, Huegerich 0-4). Rebounds: HC 23 (Molly Cunard 9), E 36 (Smith 8). Assists: HC 2, E 3 (Huegerich 2). Turnovers: HC 14, E 17. Total fouls: HC 12, E 13. Fouled out: None.