MMCRU falls just short against Exira-EHK
DES MOINES — It was a game which could have went either way, like most 4-vs-5 matchups tend to be, but the better-seeded Exira-Elk Horn/Kimballton got the slight edge over MMCRU by a 60-55 score in a Class 1A state quarterfinal Wednesday, Mar. 3, at Wells Fargo Arena.
“I believe that we could have gotten the win, but it was just a matter of it was back-and-forth and it could have gone either way,” MMCRU Head Coach Gillian Letsche said. “I’m proud of my girls and I’m proud of the effort they put out.”
The game featured two ties and nine lead changes and took until the final seconds to know that the outcome was decided.
The Royals, making their first appearance at state in their five years as program, had their biggest lead of the game in the opening moments as they scored the first six points of the contest. Ellie Hilbrands got the first bucket on a second chance opportunity as MMCRU scored 17 points that way after a solid showing on the offensive glass, grabbing 18 rebounds which was two more than their rebounding total on the defensive glass. Hilbrands had four of her nine rebounds on offense and finished with 17 points in the game.
“We had that inside-outside game going,” Hilbrands said. “They would pull out to me and I would look out to Em or Tay. I think we played well together. My team did a good job of seeing me inside as always.”
Emily Dreckman sank a pair of free throws and made a basket to stretch the lead to 6-0. The Spartans answered with the next seven points to take the lead with a 3-pointer from Macy Emgarten, who ended with 10 points, a layup from Shay Burmeister who scored 14 on 6-of-7 shooting and a layup from Quinn Grubbs who scored a game-high 25 points.
“We had our ups and downs on defense,” Letsche said. “They do run a lot of plays and that was one of the things that was hard to scout.”
Dreckman came next with a 3-pointer and another free throw as she scored eight of the team’s 10 points in the first quarter en route to a 20 point, eight rebound performance.
“We had a strong offense early, driving and kicking, and we were just creating,” Dreckman said. “We were just creating and that helped us score.”
The game remained within a possession until the final moments of the first half when Exira-EHK went on a 8-0 run to end the half to take a 30-21 lead. The run included back-to-back 3-pointers from Burmeister in the final 27 seconds. One of the Exira-EHK’s advantages in the game came from 3-point range where the team ended 8-of-17.
“We scouted them pretty hard,” Letsche said. “We knew they were going to hit a lot of threes on us, but we needed to contest and try to get the rebounds.”
While the Royals were down at half, they certainly weren’t out. Another 3-pointer early in the third quarter put the Spartans up by their largest lead of the contest at 10 points, but the Royals worked their way back into the game with four 3-pointers of their own out of their five total in the contest. The first trey came from Taylor Harpenau who dealt with foul trouble most of the game, getting two fouls in the first five minutes and picking up her third foul midway through the second quarter. Still, she finished with nine points and led the team with five steals and three assists.
Dreckman added a pair of triples and Jaylen Bork tacked on the fourth to pull to within one point.
“We went into halftime a little disappointed,” Dreckman said. “That wasn’t how we wanted the score to look at half so we knew that we had to come out second half a lot stronger and that’s what we did. We knew that our defense had to create our offense and that’s what we worked on, to make sure we had better stops, limit their shooting and driving and that would create us more opportunities on offense.”
MMCRU got their first lead since the middle of the second quarter with just over two minutes left in the third on a layup from Mya Holmes. Bork added a jump shot and Harpenau scored a layup as part of a 9-0 run over a two minute stretch in the third quarter which turned the team’s deficit into a lead.
“A lot of the momentum went to them a few times but we had to try to get it back to us and I think the momentum, especially in the third quarter, helped us,” Letsche said.
Exira-EHK used a 3-pointer from Emgarten in the final seconds of the third quarter to squash the momentum of the Royals and it carried into the fourth quarter where they shot just shy of 56 percent from the field compared to 22 percent in the final frame for the Royals.
A 3-pointer from Grubbs broke a 49-49 tie and Exira-EHK never trailed again in the last three-plus minutes of game time.
While the Spartans didn’t shoot a single free throw in the entire first half, the team ended 8-of-11 from there for the game including 5-of-7 makes from Grubbs in the last two minutes as they pushed their lead out to as many as seven points in the final minute.
Hilbrands scored a layup to pull to within five and got to the free-throw line with 5.5 seconds left after a steal from Harpenau. She made the first to get to within four and missed the second which was snagged by Dreckman for an offensive rebound, but Dreckman’s shot attempt to potentially get the game to one possession in the final seconds was off the mark and corralled by Emgarten who was fouled and knocked down 1-of-2 free throws with 0.8 of a second left for the final points of the game.
Exira-EHK, who had just eight players on their roster with their lone senior of that group dealing with an ACL injury, played their five starters for the majority of their minutes with Mollie Rasmussen with 11 points joining Grubbs, Burmeister and Emgarten in double digits. Those were the only players who scored for the Spartans while Alisa Partridge led the team with eight rebounds and their lone block.
The Spartans are playing in their fifth state tournament as a combined program after Exira, by itself, won the 2010 state championship. They improve to 24-0 on the season and will play top-seeded Bishop Garrigan (24-1) in Friday’s (Mar. 5) semifinal game at 2 p.m.
MMCRU finishes the season with a 21-3 record with all three losses coming to other state tournament teams. Their two regular season losses came at the hands of fellow 1A qualifier Kingsley-Pierson and 3A finalist Unity Christian.
The Royals will say goodbye to a pair of seniors with Bork and Molly Reuter playing in their final games. Letsche said those two will be missed.
“We’re definitely going to miss our two seniors, Jaylen Bork and Molly Reuter,” Letsche said. “They’ve been a really, really hardworking duo and we’re really proud of them and we wish them the best of luck.”
MMCRU will be set to return their top three scorers from this year for their senior seasons in the 2021-22 campaign.
“It was a really good feeling last Wednesday to be able to win and qualify to come here,” Dreckman said. “We’re here and it’s an awesome experience so I think that next year we’re going to work hard to get back down here.”
Hilbrands added the loss will help fuel them for next season.
“We’re always going to remember this loss,” Hilbrands said. “I think it’s going to push us for next year and make us want to work a lot harder in the offseason so we can make it back next year and make it even farther.”