NEVADA – A monumental obstacle was cleared in the Nevada girls’ basketball team’s quest for a Heart of Iowa Conference championship Friday.
The Cubs, ranked No. 5 in Class 3A, took on No. 7 North Polk in a battle between two teams that entered the night tied for first in the conference with just one loss apiece. North Polk has been a thorn in Nevada’s side in recent years, having swept the Cubs last season en route to the HOIC title, then defeating them again by a 56-53 score in December at Alleman.
But things were different this time.
Behind the inspired play of center Kati Cassabaum, Nevada controlled North Polk inside and made the star Comet twin tandem of Miranda and Megan Murphy work extra hard for everything they could get. Meanwhile Megan Pringnitz, Jessica Helton and Alli Fey were terrific on the perimeter for Nevada and Emma Lodestein, Abby Stephenson and Claire Ausman all made valuable contributions for the Cubs.
The end result was a 66-52 Nevada victory to give the Cubs sole possession of first place in the HOIC.
"We came in knowing this was probably one of the hardest games we’d have as we go for a conference championship," Pringnitz said. "The first game (against North Polk) we didn’t shoot well at all and we couldn’t make simple shots. We knew for this game things were going to have to start clicking and our defense was going to have to pick up. Everything just went together tonight. This was really nice."
Pringnitz hit a 3-pointer early in the second quarter that ignited an impressive stretch by Nevada.
North Polk was holding a 15-12 lead in the second quarter when Pringnitz’s long ball tied the score. Jessica Helton followed with another 3-pointer for Nevada and then Pringnitz added a putback to give Nevada a 20-15 lead.
The Cubs led 27-21 at the half and they started the second half on a mission.
After two minutes of scoreless ball from both teams to begin the second half, Fey converted a three-point play and Cassabaum scored off a steal. North Polk called timeout to try and slow the Cubs’ momentum, but it was to no avail as Nevada’s lead surged to 42-25 with two minutes, five seconds left in the third period.
Nevada continued to roll early in the fourth quarter. The Cub lead eventually swelled to 19 points as Pringnitz hit a 3-pointer to give the Cubs a 55-36 lead with a little over four minutes remaining.
With North Polk all-conference guard Megan Murphy unable to finish the game after getting her bell rung late in the third quarter, it appeared it was smooth sailing for Nevada in the final minutes of the fourth. But Murphy’s twin sister Miranda – an all-state forward – had other ideas.
Miranda scored eight points over a three minute stretch and Macy Gill and Rachel Zimmermann combined for six points to suddenly get North Polk within 59-52 with 1:09 remaining. It was looking like déjà vu as Nevada had squandered a big lead in the second meeting between the two teams a year ago.
"I knew the Murphy’s were going to start taking over – that’s their game – and Miranda definitely did in the fourth quarter," Pringnitz said. "But we knew we had to keep scoring and our free throws definitely put it away at the end."
Nevada hit 7 of 8 free throws in the final 1:05 of regulation. Fey was 5 of 6 and Pringnitz went 2 of 2.
Meanwhile, the Cubs also clamped down defensively to shut out North Polk down the stretch as they improved to 12-1 in the HOIC and 12-3 overall.
"This year we played with more maturity and composure and had some big free throws," Nevada head coach Kristin Meyer said. "Miranda did a great job for North Polk in the fourth quarter. She’s hard to stop. But our girls did a great job of weathering the storm and finishing the game strong."
Nevada shot 46 percent from the field and held North Polk to 33-percent shooting. The Cubs were 8 of 20 from 3-point range compared to North Polk’s 3 of 13 effort from downtown and Nevada also finished with a big edge at the line – making 24 of 37 foul shots against the Comets’ 15 of 24 showing.
Nevada also outrebounded North Polk, 34-24, after losing the battle on the boards by a 43-30 margin in the first meeting between the two teams. Cassabaum was the key to Nevada’s dominance on the glass as she ripped down 15 boards on the night.
"Last time we played these guys we really struggled with them getting offensive rebounds and getting shots back up," Cassabaum said. "We talked as a team about tonight making sure we really boxed out and got the rebounds. I made that one of my main goals and tried to get every single rebound."
Cassabaum also scored 13 points and blocked four shots.
Pringnitz led Nevada with 19 points. She hit four 3-pointers and also contributed seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block.
Fey scored 16 points and she ended up making 9 of 11 free throws and also delivering five rebounds and three assists and steals apiece. Helton chipped in 14 points and three steals; Stephenson had three points, two assists and one steal and Lodestein dished out five assists for the Cubs.
Miranda Murphy finished with a game-high 27 points for North Polk in the loss. She also had seven rebounds and one steal.
Megan, Gill and Zimmermann added seven points apiece and Zimmerman also came away with six steals. Hannah Becker tacked on five rebounds before fouling out, Maddy Hill totaled two points and five rebounds and Riley Murphy also scored two points for the Comets, who fell to 12-4 overall and 11-2 in the HOIC.
Nevada 66, North Polk 52
NP 14 7 8 23 – 52
N 12 15 16 23 – 66
North Polk (52) – Macy Gill 2-5 3-5 7, Megan Murphy 2-11 2-3 7, Cali Capaldo 0-0 0-0 0, Hannah Becker 0-1 0-0 0, Maddy Hill 1-6 0-0 2, Rachel Scott 0-0 0-0 0, Riley Murphy 1-1 0-0 2, Miranda Murphy 9-24 8-12 27, Rachel Zimmermann 2-4 2-4 7, Rebecca Rimathe 0-0 0-0 0, Allison Hale 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 17-52 15-24 52. 3-point field goals (3): Me. Murphy, Mi. Murphy, Zimmermann. Rebounds (24): Mi. Murphy 7. Assists (1): Me. Murphy. Steals (10): Zimmermann 6. Blocks: None.
Nevada (66) – Claire Ausman 0-2 0-0 0, Abby Stephenson 1-1 1-2 3, Megan Pringnitz 6-16 3-6 19, Emma Lodestein 0-0 1-2 1, Alli Fey 3-4 9-11 16, Jessica Helton 3-8 5-6 14, Kati Cassabaum 4-6 5-10 13. Totals: 17-37 24-37 66. 3-point field goals (8): Pringnitz 4, Helton 3, Fey. Rebounds (34): Cassabaum 15. Assists (13): Lodestein 5. Steals (10): Fey 3, Helton 3. Blocks (5): Cassabaum 4.
BAXTER – A big third quarter lifted Nevada to a 55-30 victory over Collins-Maxwell-Baxter Jan. 21 in Baxter.
The Cubs had struggled in the first half against a scrappy Raider squad. After Nevada raced out to a 15-8 lead, CMB scored eight straight points.
Raider freshman Mikayla Eslinger hit two baskets, Lexi Breon added a bucket and Mackenzie Schmitz hit a pair of free throws to give the Raiders a 16-15 lead with five minutes, 46 seconds left in the second quarter. Nevada regrouped to move back in front, but the Cubs were clinging to a 23-18 lead at the half.
But Cub guard Alli Fey quickly turned the game around in the third quarter. Fey hit back-to-back 3-pointers from the top of the key to start the period as Nevada’s lead quickly grew to 11 points.
"Last night (in a 48-37 loss at Ballard) none of us shot well, so we had today," Fey said. "We’ve been working on having a leader and I guess tonight I really wanted to prove I could do it. I knew I could shoot those 3’s when I did. Then my team had more confidence and we went from there."
By the end of the third quarter Nevada had a 40-21 lead. The Cubs held CMB to just three points in the period.
For the game Nevada held CMB to 11 of 32 shooting from the field and the Cubs forced several Raider turnovers. That enabled Nevada to get off 24 more field goals than the Raiders and the Cubs shot 38 percent and made six 3-pointers.
Nevada also won the rebounding battle by a 38-29 margin and they added 10 steals and six blocks on defense.
Fey finished with 18 points, two assists and one steal. Cassabaum added 16 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and one block and she also held all-conference CMB center Abbie Haupert to eight points.
Claire Ausman chipped in six points, four rebounds and two steals; Jessica Helton had five points, four assists and three steals and Abby Stephenson delivered four points, five rebounds and one assist. Megan Pringnitz tacked on three points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two assists and steals apiece.
Nevada also got a nice emotional lift from the return of Raegan Saunders to the court. Saunders had been out with a knee injury that also caused her to miss volleyball, and in her first action of the season, she scored a point and grabbed two rebounds.
Breon finished with 12 points and four assists, Eslinger totaled eight points and Haupert finished with 12 rebounds, three assists and one block to go along with her scoring for CMB.
Nevada 55, CMB 30
N 15 8 17 15 – 55
CMB 8 10 3 9 – 30
Nevada (55) – Claire Ausman 2-10 1-4 6, Abby Stephenson 1-3 2-4 4, Megan Pringnitz 1-7 0-0 3, Emma Lodestein 1-2 0-0 2, Raegan Saunders 0-0 1-2 1, Alli Fey 7-11 1-2 18, Jessica Helton 1-9 2-2 5, Kati Cassabaum 8-13 0-0 16, Christine Ausman 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 21-56 7-14 55. 3-point field goals (6): Fey 3. Rebounds (38): Cassabaum 10. Assists (13): Helton 4. Steals (10): Helton 3. Blocks (6): Pringnitz 3.
CMB (30) – Madilyn Brindle 0-0 0-0 0, Mackenzie Schmitz 0-1 2-3 2, Sydney Ziesman 0-1 0-0 0, Megan Ritter 0-1 0-0 0, Bridget Hurley 0-6 0-2 0, Katie Ziesman 0-2 0-0 0, Mikayla Eslinger 4-5 0-3 8, Abbie Haupert 3-6 2-5 8, Lexi Breon 4-10 1-3 12. Totals: 11-32 5-16 30. 3-point field goals (3): Breon 3. Rebounds (29): Haupert 12. Assists (10): Breon 4. Steals (2): S. Ziesman, Haupert. Blocks (1): Haupert.