Courtesy of the Des Moines Register
With a long list of offensive weapons at her disposal the biggest dilemma for Southeast Polk coach Tracy Dailey can sometimes be finding out which player has the hot hand.
That wasn't a problem a problem on Tuesday.
Senior Casey Stuart scored 25 of her game-high 27 points in the second half to lift ninth-ranked Southeast Polk to a 59-56 win over second-ranked Iowa City High (19-4) in the Class 5A Region 6 title game in Iowa City.
The win was the sixth straight for Southeast Polk (18-5) and sends the Rams to the state tournament for the sixth consecutive season.
"Our blessing and our curse is that we have a lot of scorers and sometimes it's hard to find out who is hot and who is not," Dailey said. "But when we figure that out in the times when we really need a bucket we have kids that can get them. We have a lot of scorers and when we play together it's really hard to keep us down."
Two early fouls relegated Stuart to the bench for most of the first half and limited the 5-foot-8 guard to just two made free throws and two field-goal attempts.
There was nothing that could stop Stuart after halftime.
Stuart hit 6 of 8 field-goal attempts in the second half and was 12-of-16 from the free-throw line as she continually beat defenders into the lane off the dribble.
"When I got the fouls and I knew I was going to sit the rest of the half I knew we were going to need it down the stretch," Stuart said. "So in the second half I just said 'I'm the least tired' so I tried to attack."
City High got 18 points and 16 rebounds from Ashley Joens and 15 points each from Courtney Joens and Kenya Earl, but it wasn't enough to overcome 20 turnovers and the big second half from Stuart.
The Little Hawks led 45-44 with 4:50 left in the game following a pair of Ashley Joens free throws, but Southeast Polk scored 11 of the next 13 points during a 2:30 stretch that featured a frantic up-and-down pace.
Stuart scored nine of the Rams' points during the 11-2 run that gave Southeast Polk its largest lead of the game at 55-47 with 1:56 left.
"We lost our composure a little bit and that was one of our worst games and it's a tribute to them," City High coach Bill McTaggart said. "They didn't do anything that we didn't practice, their best attribute is they are able to push the ball down the floor and we didn't get back as well as we should have."
Neither team led by more than four points in a back-and-forth first half that ended with City High holding a 22-21 lead.
Junior guard Sierra Mitchell had seven of her 15 points during the second quarter to keep Southeast Polk afloat with Stuart on the bench.
"We should have taken advantage when one of their best players was sitting on the bench the first half," McTaggart said. "We should have been up double digits in the first half and we had poor passing and poor shot selection and that is what is frustrating is we didn't take advantage of that opportunity."
Stuart had 11 of Southeast Polk's 16 points in the third quarter and Earl had 11 of City High's 15 in the period that ended with the score knotted at 37.
Finally it was Stuart and the Rams that took control down the stretch.
Stuart scored four straight to give Southeast Polk a 48-45 lead with 3:07 left.
After two Earl free throws cut the margin to 48-47, Stuart scored five points in a span of 18 seconds and Shiloh McCool scored on a breakaway layup to give the Rams a 55-47 lead they would never give up.
City High had one final shot after Abby Penquite missed the second of two free throws with 3.3 seconds left, but Ashley Joens could only get away a half-court shot that didn't draw iron.
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
Southeast Polk 8 13 16 22 - 59
City High 11 11 15 19 - 56
Southeast Polk (59) – Sierra Mitchell 5-10 0-0 13, Casey Stuart 6-10 14-18 27, Anna Zelenovich 0-0 0-0 0, Shiloh McCool 3-10 1-2 7, Abby Penquite 1-7 0-0 4, Sami Craig 0-1 2-4 2, Allee Ira 2-6 1-2 6, Team 17-45 19-26 59.
City High (56) – Sydney Schroder 2-4 0-0 5, Ashley Joens 6-10 5-8 18, Christina Hora 1-6 0-0 3, Rose Gamamou 0-4 0-0 0, Courtney Joens 5-12 2-2 15, Kenya Earl 5-11 4-5 15, Team 19-47 11-15 56.
3-point field goals – ICH 7-16 (Schroder 1-1, A. Joens 1-1, Hora 1-6, C. Joens 3-5, Earl 1-3), SEP 6-14 (Mitchell 3-6, Stuart 1-1, McCool 0-1, Penquite 1-5, Ira 1-1). Rebounds – ICH 37 (A. Joens (16), SEP 22 (Ira 5). Turnovers – ICH 20, SEP 8. Total fouls – ICH 21, SEP 16. Fouled out – City High (Schroder). Technical fouls – None.