GRISWOLD, Iowa — Through a shortness of breath and general weak sensation racking her body, Molly Cunard made one important decision.
She wasn't ready for her high school basketball career to be done just yet.
The Heartland Christian senior was only a couple of days removed from a night of throwing up and missing school with the flu. Averaging more than 20 points per game, she managed just three in the first half of her team's postseason debut against Griswold on Wednesday night.
The halftime break afforded Cunard a few minutes of precious rest — and the chance to refocus for a big finish.
“I think she just finally sucked it up in the second half and realized this may be her last half of basketball,” said Heartland coach Robert Cunard, Molly's father. “She decided she better get out there and do something about it.”
The 6-foot senior collected 13 of her 16 points after the break and younger sister Steffi Cunard led all scorers with 23 as the Eagles fought past Griswold 48-38 in their Class 1-A regional opener.
A Steffi Cunard free throw put Heartland Christian up for good at 29-28 to end the third quarter. Molly Cunard nailed a corner trey to begin the fourth and helped Heartland establish a 36-28 advantage.
Unrated Heartland (14-9) will visit No. 8 Adair-Casey (20-3) in a quarterfinal game at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Adair-Casey needed overtime to best Boyer Valley (8-13) on Wednesday.
“Some people kind of think we're small, so I think it's cool to go out and compete with bigger schools from tougher conferences,” said Molly Cunard, who also had 10 rebounds. “That's really cool for us.”
Heartland — the third-smallest 1-A girls basketball school — rallied to beat the biggest school in the class thanks to a defensive tweak and timely buckets.
With a bench usually no more than two girls deep, the Eagles mostly employ a 2-3 zone, Robert Cunard said. But they decided to switch to a man defense to start the second half.
A confused Griswold committed five turnovers in the third quarter as a result. Molly Cunard, meanwhile, went on a personal 8-0 run to give her side the lead after trailing 24-18 at intermission. The Tigers scored four points in the third quarter.
“We came out with more aggression in the second half,” Molly Cunard said. “We refocused and changed our game plan to their defense.”
Steffi Cunard said the best part was seeing Heartland's more unsung girls make plays in big moments. Sarah Hardcastle and Kelsy Drake turned in strong defensive showings from their guard positions and Katie Fouts hit 4 of 7 free-throw attempts to help keep Heartland in front late.
“It was really awesome to see that our whole team wanted it so bad,” Steffi Cunard said. “It finally came together for us.”
The Tigers (6-16) drew within 41-37 on a Brooke Hansen 3-pointer with 2:16 to play. But a Steffi Cunard triple in the final minute sealed what was a tight contest most of the way.
Griswold, which had lost seven straight games before Tuesday, was whistled for 24 team fouls to Heartland's seven. Three starters finished with four fouls, and reserve Jackie Rush fouled out.
Coach Jeff Koenck said the result was an inability to apply full-court pressure when Griswold fell behind. Junior Kinzey Nicklaus ended with a team-high nine points, and Hansen and Jeana Freund added eight each.
Heartland went 22 of 30 at the line, while Griswold was 2 of 4.
“I hate to complain about officials, but no team is good enough to only commit seven fouls the entire game,” Koenck said. “But what do you do? Bit of a frustrating year, but you try to keep the girls thirsty and hungry and continue to work and get better.”
The Eagles won their postseason opener for a second straight year. After completing a third-place finish in the Corner Conference standings this week, they can turn their attention to winning a regional quarterfinal for the first time in their brief history.
“Anytime you win a postseason game, it's big,” Robert Cunard said. “You know you get to play the next game instead of packing it in. It's exciting for the girls and the school.”
Heartland Christian (14-9) .......................................... 10 8 11 19—48
At Griswold (6-16) ..................................................... 9 15 4 10—38
HC: Sarah Hardcastle 0-0 0-0 0, Katie Fouts 0-2 4-7 4, Kelsy Drake 0-0 1-2 1, Kayla Myers 1-1 0-0 2, Kendra Myers 1-4 0-0 2, Steffi Cunard 5-13 10-13 23, Molly Cunard 4-10 7-8 16. Totals 11-30 22-30 48.
G: Jeana Freund 4-6 0-0 8, Marquel Brunk 3-5 0-0 6, Kayla Kirchhoff 2-9 0-0 6, Brooke Hansen 3-13 0-0 8, Jackie Rush 0-0 1-2 1, Jessica Marshall 0-1 0-0 0, Kinzey Nicklaus 4-11 1-2 9. Totals 16-45 2-4 38.
3-point goals: HC 4-8 (Steffi Cunard 3-6, Molly Cunard 1-2), G 4-19 (Kirchhoff 2-7, Hansen 2-9, Nicklaus 0-3). Rebounds: HC 22 (Molly Cunard 10), G 22 (Brunk 9). Assists: HC 2 (Molly Cunard, Steffi Cunard 1), G 5 (Kirchhoff, Rush 2). Turnovers: HC 14, G 12. Total fouls: HC 7, G 24. Fouled out: G, Rush.