RED OAK, Iowa — The Exira-EHK girls refused to sulk when their fourth-quarter ball handling broke down to the tune of seven turnovers.
Instead, the Spartans sprinted to the other end and did something about it.
Second-ranked Exira-EHK forced nine turnovers in the final period and held unrated, upset-minded Nodaway Valley to two points in the final 5:40 for a 41-35 Class 1-A regional final basketball victory Monday at a packed Red Oak High School gymnasium.
Mara Burmeister and Rose Andersen represented the Spartans’ resilience. They normally combine for 20 points per game but managed two. However, their defense was outstanding, sharing the team lead with three steals each.
“There were some upset girls with some of the things they were doing offensively,” Exira-EHK coach Tom Petersen said. “But their defense — wow. They pressure the ball.”
The Spartans, also second in western Iowa (Class 2-A/1-A), improved to 23-0 and are into the state field for a second straight year. They will meet seventh-rated and defending champion Newell-Fonda (18-6) in Monday’s 3:15 p.m. 1-A state quarterfinal at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Nodaway Valley, seventh in western Iowa, closed at 18-6. There was no moral victory in pushing the Spartans to the wire.
“We expected to come in here and win,” Nodaway Valley coach Tom Thompson said. “I didn’t doubt for a minute that we would have that opportunity.”
The Wolverines did, when Jodi Baudler hit a corner 3 with 5:40 remaining to tie the game at 33, capping a 12-2 run.
But the Pride of Iowa Conference entry couldn’t handle the Spartans’ fierce full-court pressure down the stretch. Paige McElfish, a 5-foot-8 junior, turned in a strong floor game for the Wolverines with 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals. But she and 6-footer Josie Clarke (nine points, nine rebounds, four blocks) wore down, Thompson said.
“I think probably Paige and Josie both got a little tired,” he said. “I think that’s a factor. We ask a lot out of them.”
Burmeister had a steal and layup to break the 33-all deadlock, and then Sophia Peppers fed Kealey Nelson for a layup before making a steal and basket to push it to 39-33 with 1:55 left.
The Wolverines trimmed it to four and had the ball with less than 30 seconds left after a missed Spartan 1-and-1, but they couldn’t convert, and Maggie Rasmussen’s two free throws with 14.9 seconds remaining iced it.
Nelson led Exira-EHK with 16 points while Peppers, a 5-10 sophomore, added 11 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
“In the moment, we were freaking out,” Peppers said of the fourth-quarter turnovers. “We just needed to slow down. When we saw that they were coming back, I think it made us rethink our situation. It made us be more confident with the ball.”
It was a somber Nodaway Valley locker room. The Wolverines were seeking the school’s first girls state appearance.
“These guys have poured a lot of time into it,” Thompson said softly. “They put a lot of heart out there on the floor.”
Nodaway Valley (18-6)......13 6 9 7—35
Exira-EHK (23-0).............12 11 10 8—41
NV: Mercedes Harter 2-8 0-0 6, Jodi Baudler 2-5 0-0 5, Jessica Nelson 4-10 0-0 9, Paige McElfish 1-9 0-1 2, Josie Clarke 4-8 1-2 9, Annie Herr 1-1 0-0 2, Addie Lamb 0-0 0-0 0, Keeley Shantz 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 15-42 1-3 35.
EEHK: Maggie Rasmussen 3-9 4-4 12, Mara Burmeister 1-5 0-0 2, Kealey Nelson 8-17 0-0 16, Rose Andersen 0-4 0-1 0, Sophia Peppers 5-10 0-0 11, Leslie Caniglia 0-2 0-0 0, Sydnee Young 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-47 4-5 41.
3-point goals: NV 4-15 (Harter 2-8, Baudler 1-3, Nelson 1-4), EEHK 3-14 (Rasmussen 2-5, Peppers 1-3, Nelson 0-1, Burmeister 0-2, Andersen 0-3). Total fouls: NV 11, EEHK 6. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: none. Rebounds: NV 34 (Nelson 10, McElfish 10), EEHK 22 (Peppers 9). Assists: NV 12 (McElfish 5), EEHK 10 (Peppers 5). Steals: NV 7 (McElfish 4), EEHK 11 (Burmeister 3, Andersen 3). Turnovers: NV 22, EEHK 15.
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