TIFFIN, Ia. — Clippers head coach PJ Sweeney, out of breath and grinning ear to ear, shook his head outside the locker room after the game.
The Clear Creek Amana girls’ basketball team had just beaten Benton Community, 53-40, to advance to the regional semifinals at No. 6 Cedar Rapids Xavier (15-6) this Saturday. It was CCA’s first playoff win of any kind in nearly two decades.
“I’ve always imagined this moment and for it to actually be here and for it to actually happen, I’m just at a loss for words,” the third-year head coach said. “It’s pretty emotional to be honest with you. It’s great to go in that locker room and see everyone smiling, excited. They all know it, too — where the program’s been the last 20 years. It’s had a lot of lows; not a lot of highs.”
CCA (13-9) entered this season with a record of 62-151 over the past decade, with a couple two-win seasons and a three-win season sprinkled in there.
It jumped out to an early 8-0 lead and held a 27-13 advantage at halftime, having held Benton to just three baskets on 23 attempts. The Bobcats (5-17) wound up shooting 29 percent (13-for-45), kept mostly in the game by their five made 3s on 18 shots.
Goodness knows they couldn’t get anything inside, where Lauren Helle rejected four shots.
“We’ve been playing some good ball,” Sweeney said. “We kind of had a hiccup against Marion and West Branch, but I knew that we could get some things going here a little bit.
“Our defense was pretty locked in (tonight).”
Karsyn Stratton was tasked with guarding Benton’s top scorer, Leah VanWeelden. She held her to 12 points, right around her season average. Meanwhile, Stratton led all scorers with 20 points on 8 of 14 shooting.
Claire Navara added 18 on six made 3-pointers and Helle had six.
As a team, CCA shot 45 percent (22-for-49). It forced 14 Benton turnovers. Six turnovers of its own allowed the Bobcats to outscore CCA, 13-6, in the final frame and make the game look much closer than it was.