Remsen St. Mary’s wins state tournament debut
DES MOINES — The Remsen St. Mary’s girls basketball team may have been nervous stepping onto the court at Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday for the first time in school history, but they did a pretty good job of hiding it. The Hawks jumped out to an early lead and never trailed against West Fork in their Class 1A state quarterfinal matchup and went on to win by a 54-41 score.
“It’s just a whole different atmosphere. You just get way more excited and nervous at the same time,” junior Carmindee Ricke said. “We just cooled our nerves I guess. We just started playing our game and then Mya came out and hit a couple threes and then it was just go time from there.”
Fourth-seeded RSM scored the first five points of the game on a free throw from Mya Bunkers, a layup from Ricke and a steal and layup from Whitney Jensen. After the Warhawks answered for three points, Bunkers knocked down a pair of 3-pointers as it didn’t take long for the RSM offense to find their groove.
Bunkers gave her teammates credit for the good looks she got.
“Screens from other girls obviously and when my teammate drive, they always look to kick out if they’re not open, so it’s always from other girls creating for me,” Bunkers said. “My teammates, they trust me and they all give me confidence.”
Leah Weaver got a 3-pointer for West Fork to pull her team to within three as she finished as their leading scorer with 11 points in the game, but the Hawks closed the opening quarter on a 6-0 run.
“Coming out early to take the lead, you just have the momentum all game,” Ricke said as she finished with 10 points.
Bunkers sank her third 3-pointer of the first half midway through the second quarter as she finished the game with 15 points, one of three in double digits for the Hawks. She also ended with nine rebounds which finished tied for most on the team with Claire Schroeder.
Rebounding was a key for the Hawks in the win as they out-rebounded their opponent 40-25 and came away with 18 offensive rebounds which led to 13 second chance points. Along with the nine boards apiece for Schroeder and Bunkers, Jensen finished with eight and Ricke added seven. Each of the four had at least three on the offensive glass.
“The boards were a big thing. We had 40 rebounds,” RSM Head Coach Scott Willman said. “It was one and done for them. They’d take one shot and they’re done, one shot and they’re done. For us, we were able to get a lot of offensive rebounds at times and build on them.”
The team ended with 26 points in the paint and many of those came on putbacks.
RSM held a 32-22 advantage at the intermission before the team was off and running again in the second half. Jensen got a steal and took it to the other end for a layup to get the second half started for the team. Jensen finished as the team’s leading scorer with 17 points. She added five steals, two assists and had a pair of blocked shots.
“After her six points in a couple games, she has really snapped out of it,” Willman said of Jensen as she finished a few points above her 14.6 points per game average for the season. “She snapped out of it at the end of the Exira game and now she’s playing at her level again.”
Willman also praised Claire Schroeder’s work in the post. She finished just 1-of-5 shooting from the field, but was able to get to the free-throw line for five of her seven points in the contest. Along with tying for the team lead in rebounds, she also tied with Ricke for most assists with three.
“I think Claire Schroeder did a great job on the post. She was very active,” Willman said.
The starting five for the Hawks, consisting of all juniors, scored all of the points for the team in the win. Halle Galles provided the other five points, three of which came on a shot from the perimeter to make it a 40-25 game midway through the third quarter.
Despite the hot start from Bunkers from beyond the arc, RSM finished the game just 4-of-19 from the perimeter. For the game, West Fork shot for a slightly better percentage both overall from the field (39 to 37.3 percent) and from beyond the arc (22.2 to 21.1 percent), but RSM ended up taking more shots due to turnovers and second chance opportunities while also getting to the free-throw line more frequently which led to the team’s final scoring advantage.
West Fork did make an 8-2 run to close the final four minutes of the third quarter to pull to within a 42-33 score entering the final frame.
“We had a few moments at the end of the third going into the fourth that was a little bit more difficult and they made a run then,” Willman said. “They’d make a run on us and we’d make a run back.”
The Hawks started off the fourth quarter by scoring the first nine points to build up to their biggest lead of the game at 18 points with 4:13 remaining.
A couple strong defensive stretches by the Hawks helped them in the game as they held their opponent to three points in the first four minutes of the second half and then held them scoreless for over four minutes to start the fourth quarter before Breckyn Dickman hit a 3-pointer for their first points of the quarter at the 3:46 mark in the final frame.
“I think we had a lot of good help and we all just stayed on our girl. We had to play good defense. We kept them in front and we just adjusted well today,” said Ricke, who helped lead the defense with her six steals.
RSM slammed the brakes on the offense in the fourth quarter, looking to use as much time off the clock before the shot clock expired. Bunkers said it was not something the team was used to doing.
“Slowing down, we haven’t really worked on that. We’re more of a fast-paced team, so slowing down was a little struggle for us, but I think we executed well for slowing down for one of the first times,” Bunkers said.
RSM attempted only five shots from the field in the fourth quarter after taking at least 14 shots in each of the first three frames. Still, the team made the most of those shots, going 3-of-5 from the field in the fourth quarter while forcing the Warhawks to foul where RSM made 6-of-9, half of their 12-of-20 showing in the game.
West Fork, who entered undefeated as the No. 5 seed and had won all but one of their games this season by double digits, concludes the season with a 24-1 record in their first trip to Des Moines since 2011. They graduate four of their five starters.
Remsen St. Mary’s (24-1) advances to the Class 1A semifinal round where they will play defending champion and top-seeded Bishop Garrigan (24-1) at 1:30 p.m., Friday.
Willman said his team isn’t going to shy away from their next opponent.
“They’re a talented team. There's a reason they’re the state champions, but we’re glad to be here and we believe,” Willman said.