By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
Strong defense and clutch free throw shooting helped lead the Maquoketa Valley girls basketball team to a place it hasn’t been since 2004 – the State Girls Basketball Tournament.
The Wildcats outscored North Butler 24-14 in the second half, scoring 14 of those points from the free throw line, to earn a 39-30 victory in the Class 2A, Region 4 championship game Monday, Feb. 18 in Oelwein.
The two previous Maquoketa Valley teams posted 20-win seasons, but both were stopped in the regional semifinal round. This Wildcat squad made it, sending MV to State for the fifth time in its history.
“I am so proud of our kids,” Maquoketa Valley coach Scot Moenck said. “They played great, and I couldn’t be more happy for our kids, our school and our community.
“I have coached so many wonderful kids that have never made it to State, so for these kids to accomplish this is really something special.”
Defense was one key to the outcome of this game. North Butler, which came into the game with 19 consecutive wins, was held to 11-for-36 shooting from the field (30.5 percent). The Wildcats also held the Bearcats’ two leading scorers, Andrea Schrage and Channing Wunsch, to a combined four points.
The other key was free throw shooting. MV made 18 of 27 foul shots in the game, a moderate 66.7 percent. More telling was the clutch shooting of seniors Renee Huber (8-for-10 from the line) and Heidi Hoeger (9-for-12).
Maquoketa Valley struggled early, as the Bearcats surged to a 9-2 lead in the first 6 ½ minutes of the first quarter.
“We were a little shaken up,” Huber said, “but then we told ourselves to calm down, and we gathered everything together, because we knew we could win.”
Moenck said: “We were tight to start off. A couple kids got a little emotional, and we had to reel them back in. To our kids’ credit, they stepped up.”
Hoeger sank two free throws to cut the margin to 9-4. Ashley Holtz came off the bench and drilled a three-point basket, and Hoeger stole the ball and drove the length of the court for a lay-up with one second left in the quarter that tied the score 9-9.
The Wildcats couldn’t take the lead in the second period, but never trailed by more than four. A lay-up by Huber with six seconds left cut MV’s deficit to 16-15, which was the halftime score.
Maquoketa Valley didn’t get its first lead until Nicole Kudrna scored off an inside pass from Huber, putting the Wildcats ahead 20-18 with 5:52 left in the third quarter. MV never trailed again.
Brooke Wooten hit a three-point shot to make it a five-point lead, but North Butler’s Kenzie Siemens followed with a three-pointer of her own. Schrage then scored on an offensive rebound to tie the game 23-23 with 3:18 left in the period.
Two free throws by Hoeger, and a basket by Wooten off a pass from Huber, gave the Wildcats 27-23 lead that held up until the buzzer.
Free throws settled the issue in the fourth quarter. Huber made four straight to give MV a 31-25 lead with 5:21 left to play.
On its next possession, the Wildcats started keeping the ball out on the perimeter, and managed to run more than two minutes off the clock before Hoeger sank two free throws to put her team ahead 33-25 with 3:14 to play.
“We’ve been working on them a lot on practice,” Hoeger said. “The other seniors and I stay after practice a lot and shoot extra free throws.”
Moenck said the team’s 21-for-28 foul shooting in its semifinal win over Bellevue factored in the decision to hold the ball.
“We wanted to be patient,” the coach said. “After the Bellevue game, we decided, ‘Let’s make them foul us, and let’s limit their possessions.’ ”
North Butler lost two chances to close the gap on an offensive foul with 1:12 to play and a traveling call with 1:03 left. The Wildcats shot just 6-for-13 from the line in the final 2:30 of the game, but it was enough to secure the nine-point win.
Hoeger finished with 11 points, while Huber and Wooten scored 10 apiece. Wooten also had seven rebounds. Hoeger made two assists and two steals.
The Wildcats (19-5) were scheduled to begin state tournament play Tuesday, Feb. 26 against IKM of Manila (23-1) at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“It feels awesome,” Huber said. “We worked so hard throughout the summer.”
Maq. Valley 9 6 12 12 – 39
N. Butler 9 7 7 7 - 30
MAQUOKETA VALLEY (39) – Renee Huber 1-12, 8-10 10, Heidi Hoeger 1-6 9-12 11, Anna Jay 1-2 0-0 3, Nicole Kudrna 1-2 0-1 2, Brooke Wooten 4-8 1-2 10, Ashley Holtz 1-1 0-2 3, Abby Jay 0-0 0-0 0, Kate Huber 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 9-31 18-27 39.
NORTH BUTLER (30) – Marisa Speedy 2-3 0-0 4, Andrea Schrage 1-3 2-2 4, Kenzie Siemens 4-10 2-2 13, Lisa Feldman 3-7 0-0 7, Channing Wunsch 0-6 0-0 0, Jenny Rottler 1-6 0-1 2, Katelyn Schulz 0-1 0-0 0, Haley Landers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 11-36 4-5 30.
Three-pointers: An. Jay, Wooten, Holtz; Siemens 3, Feldman.
Rebounds: North Butler 22, Maquoketa Valley 21 (Wooten 7).
Total fouls: North Butler 22, Maquoketa Valley 12.
PHOTO: Maquoketa Valley players celebrate after winning the regional championship Feb. 18 in Oelwein. (Photo by Pete Temple)