When Friday’s game ended, Kiera Washpun collapsed to her knees near mid-court to begin dealing with the devastation.
City High’s senior point guard soon was joined by several teammates, who tried to comfort Washpun, knowing that her career was over.
One of the greatest seasons in school history ended sadly as top-ranked City led for three quarters against West Des Moines Dowling before falling apart in the fourth quarter and losing 49-44 in a Class 5A state tournament semifinal game at Wells Fargo Arena.
Dowling, which trailed 13-5 after the first quarter, outscored the Little Hawks 19-10 in the fourth quarter to advance to tonight’s state title game against Southeast Polk for the second consecutive season. City finished the season with a 25-1 record, with all but two of the victories coming by double figures.
“We ran into a very good defensive team, and Dowling played very well in the fourth quarter,” City coach Bill McTaggart said. “We knew it was going to have to be our best game in order to beat them. And we take our hat off to Dowling Catholic for their fine play and taking it to us in the fourth quarter.”
Washpun led City in scoring with 15 points, but she made only 2-of-9 shots from 3-point range after draining 4-of-5 3-pointers during Wednesday’s 68-34 thumping against Cedar Rapids Kennedy in the quarterfinals.
All-state senior center Haley Lorenzen also struggled on offense, missing 11 of her 14 field-goal attempts and five of seven free throws, including one that didn’t even hit the rim.
“I just had no confidence after missing all my shots before that,” Lorenzen said of her struggles at the free-throw line in the second half. “My teammates tried to give me a bunch of confidence, but I did it to myself. And it just shows that I have to work on my mental strength and things like that.”
Washpun said her team let up after bolting to an early lead.
“I think we pretty much got comfortable,” Washpun said. “We didn’t box out very hard. There were a lot of things that we could have done a lot better. But then again, there were a lot of things that we did do well.
“But it’s one of those things where you have to go hard no matter what when you’re playing against a (good) team that’s being aggressive.”
Dowling was especially aggressive on defense, with much of its focus on stopping the 6-foot-3 Lorenzen, who entered the state tournament averaging 21.5 points per game. Four of Dowling’s five starters were 6-0 or taller.
“I still had my open looks,” said Lorenzen, who has signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Florida next season. “They did have their big girls all over the place. It was a very physical game. They made it very hard for me. And obviously, they did succeed.
“But we had an incredible season and I wouldn’t trade this team for the world.”
Dowling sophomore Becca Hittner made a 3-point basket in the final minute of the third quarter to trim City’s lead to 34-30 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Maroons (22-3) took their first lead of the game at 37-36 when senior guard Hayden Butler made a trey with 5 minutes, 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Butler’s 3-pointer was part of an 11-0 scoring run that shifted the momentum in Dowling’s favor.
City sophomore Courtney Joens made two free throws to trim the lead to 41-38 with 2:44 remaining. Hittner then made a basket and Butler hit two free throws to stretch Dowling’s lead to 45-38 with 1:03 remaining. City twice narrowed the gap to three points in the final minute but could get no closer.
Friday’s loss marked just the third time this season that City had an outcome that was decided by fewer than 10 points. City defeated Waterloo West and Muscatine by scores of 53-51 and 53-48, respectively, in the regular season.
McTaggart was asked if his players struggled Friday because they weren’t used to being in tight games. City shot only 26.4 percent from the field, hitting on just 14-of-53 field-goal attempts.
“We shot pretty well throughout the year, too, and you have to attribute that to Dowling’s defense,” McTaggart said. “They held us to 20 percent-some shooting. But in the (games) that were close we pulled them out. So I’m not sure if that had anything to do with it or not.”
Dowling, on the other hand, is used to being in situations like Friday. Many of the current players, including senior center Lucy Sarcone, had key roles for last year’s team that lost to Southeast Polk in the Class 5A title game.
“They seemed a little uneasy at the end there,” Sarcone said of the Little Hawks. “They weren’t sure what they were supposed to do.
“We’ve been here before, and we’re used to it. So I think that helped us pull through at the time. It was amazing.”
Hittner led Dowling with 19 points, and 6-1 junior forward Audrey Faber finished with 14 points and six assists. Faber also made all six of her free-throw attempts, and Dowling made 15-of-16 free-throw attempts overall, including six in a row in the final minute.
McTaggart sympathized with his star center, saying the Little Hawks wouldn’t have made it this far without Lorenzen leading the way.
“She’s carried us in so many games,” McTaggart said. “This wasn’t one of her better games. But she’s had more than her share of fine games and she carried us to the quarterfinals and the semifinals. I just feel bad that wasn’t her best game of the year. But she’ll have a fine career at Florida.”
Lorenzen struggled with her emotions afterwards. Her team was poised to take the next step, only to come up short. Her junior season also ended in devastating fashion with a loss to rival West High in a substate final.
“We came out strong,” Lorenzen said of Friday’s game. “But then we let them come back, and we let them get momentum. That’s when things started to fall apart.
“And then I obviously didn’t play my best at all. But my teammates kept picking me up, and I kept trying and I kept trying. It just wasn’t my night, and tonight wasn’t the night not to perform.
“And you have to give credit to Dowling. They played their butts off tonight.”
W.D.M. DOWLING (49) – Sarcone 2-3 0-0 4, Butler 1-6 2-2 5, Hittner 6-9 4-4 19, Daniel 2-4 3-4 7, Faber 4-10 6-6 14, Childers 0-0 0-0 0, Sadler 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-32 15-16.
CITY HIGH (44) – Sar. Blowers 0-2 0-0 0, Washpun 4-15 5-6 15, Sam Blowers 1-1 0-0 2, Joens 4-15 4-4 14, Lorenzen 3-14 2-7 8, Plock 2-2 0-0 4, Koenig 0-1 0-0 0, Earl 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 14-53 11-17.
3-point goals–Dowling 4-9 (Hittner 3-3, Butler 1-6), City 5-20 (Washpun 2-9, Joens 2-7, Sam Blowers 1-1, Earl 0-2, Koenig 0-1). Rebounds–Dowling 32 (Sarcone 9), City 27 (Lorenzen 11). Assists–Dowling 9 (Faber 6), City 10 (Washpun 3, Joens 3). Fouls–Dowling 14, City 17. Fouled out–Sarcone.