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Iowa high school girls basketball state tournament: Estherville Lincoln Central, Solon move on to Class 3A final

Both teams cruised in the semifinals Thursday night

DES MOINES — Early on in its Class 3A state tournament semifinal game, things were looking good the Estherville Lincoln Central High School girls’ basketball team

Then it got even better. 

The top-seeded Midgets got a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from senior Jasey Anderson to end an already-impressive first half as Estherville Lincoln Central led fourth-seeded Mount Vernon 28-12 after two quarters of play.

“I was on the bench when (then buzzer-beater happened) and I literally spit out the water I was taking a drink of,” said junior Clara Schiltz, who had four points and two steals.

Schlitz also had a tough defensive assignment as the Midgets were at a noticeable size disadvantage against the Mustangs.

“I’m the tallest on the team at 5-foot-9,” junior Rylee Yager, who notched a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, both game highs.. “But if we can rebound, that helps us get our offense going and allows us to get out in transition.”

ELC would go on to win the 3A semifinal contest at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Thursday by a 45-37 final.

“I want to congratulate (Mount Vernon) on a great season,” said ELC head coach Don Martindale. “But I can’t say enough about our kids. They’re full speed the full time for 32 minutes.

“It was a total team effort. Every one of our six kids that played major minutes totally bought in to what we were doing. Our kids totally exemplify what a team is.”

Estherville Lincoln Central's Rylee Yager scans the court during a Class 3A state semifinal game against Mount Vernon on Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. (Photo by Ryan Timmerman)

Estherville Lincoln Central's Rylee Yager scans the court during a Class 3A state semifinal game against Mount Vernon on Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. (Photo by Ryan Timmerman)

The Midgets (24-2) will play third-seeded Solon (23-3) in the Class 3A state championship game on Friday at 8 p.m.

“We’ve been working toward this our whole life,” said Yager. “It feels amazing.

“We work the ball so well together very well offensively.”

While Mount Vernon managed to close the final gap to eight points, the final score was as close as the Mustangs came to matching the Midgets, whose biggest led by 20 at the end of the third quarter before the Mustangs won the final frame by a 15-5 margin with mostly reserves getting run, especially for ELC.

Moreover, the Midgets were impressive despite Mount Vernon doing a more-than-respectable job defending junior star guard Haylee Stokes, who nearly matched the state tournament single-game scoring record (set by Iowa St. standout freshman Audi Crooks during last season’s state tournament as she amassed 49 points). In ELC’s quarterfinal win over Forest City, Stokes went for 44.

On Thursday, Mount Vernon held Stokes to 15 points on 4 of 11 shooting, but ELC had three other players score in double figures as the Midgets’ scoring depth and defense carried them to a win over Mount Vernon.

“Everybody chipped in,” said Hillary Ruschy, who had 11 points and six rebounds. “A lot of the time they face-guarded Haylee, but that just gave openings for the next person.”

While the Midgets only committed one fewer turnover (12-11), they were more able to turn defense into offense as ELC scored nine points off turnovers to the Mustangs’ three, and the Midgets scored eight fast break points while Mount Vernon didn’t have any.

Mount Vernon never led in the contest, and the 0-0 tie score to start the game held for 41 seconds. ELC led for the remaining 31 minutes, 19 seconds of game time.

“Everyone has my back, I have their backs,” Ruschy said. “It’s just about having confidence in each other. Our defense and rebounding has gotten better just about every game. There’s things offensively that you just have to adjust to depending on what they play, but our defense and rebounding has stayed consistent.”

Solon Rolls over Des Moines Christian

For Callie Levin, the biggest news on Thursday came after her Solon High School girls’ basketball team cruised into the Class 3A state tournament championship.

Levin, a senior who entered Thursday’s Class 3A semifinal against Des Moines Christian averaging over 22 points per game to lead the Spartans, wasn’t needed to do much offensively as she tallied nine points, four assists and three rebounds while Solon powered its way to a 49-25 victory over second-seeded Lions in the 3A semifinal on Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

After the game, however, Levin, an Iowa commit, was informed that current Hawkeye star Caitlin Clark had announced that she will forgo her last season of eligibility at Iowa to enter the WNBA Draft.

“That’s crazy,” Levin said. “You have your suspicions, but you never know. When I went on an unofficial visit, I got to talk to her a little bit, then on my official visit, we hung out a little bit. I just think she’s incredible. She’s so confident in herself. She doesn’t play like anyone I’ve ever seen.

“Part of me is like, ‘Dang, that would’ve been awesome (to play with her), but I’ve just always wanted to be a Hawkeye, so it doesn’t change anything.”

On the court, Solon dominated.

Although the Spartans held just a slim 10-6 lead at the end of the first quarter, that quickly opened up.

“We definitely wanted to get out in transition,” said senior Anna Quillen, who had six points and eight rebounds. “(But) this team is built on defense.”

With a little over two minutes remaining in the half, the Spartan lead swelled to 22-8, and at that time, Des Moines Christian had just one made field goal against 16 turnovers.

Further, Solon had 24 points in the paint to DM Christian’s 10, plus the Spartans went for 19 points off turnovers, had six fast break points and scored 13 second chance points.

Even with the game in hand, the defense didn’t stop, either, as the Lions went the final four minutes without scoring.

“Our defense was phenomenal,” Levin said. “I don’t even know what to say about it, we made them turn the ball over and turned that into offense. It means so much for us to be here. Winning a state title has been our goal since the beginning, and tomorrow, we get a chance to do that.”

--Ryan Timmerman | @SBLiveIA