Rocca Ignites Rally as City High Storms Past West High and Towards Number One Ranking

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Jeff Yoder Photo / iagameday.smugmug.com

Ryan Murken

Your Prep Sports

IOWA CITY – Paige Rocca doesn’t have a say in the state basketball rankings.

That didn’t stop the City High sophomore guard from offering her opinion on where she believes her team belongs following Tuesday’s win over cross-town rival West High.

“We weren’t happy with the rankings,” Rocca said. “We gotta be (number one) now?”

After knocking off the number one and number two ranked teams in a five-day span the Little Hawks are likely to be number one when the 5A rankings are released on Thursday and Rocca is a big reason why.

Rocca had a pair of 3-pointers in a 12-0 fourth-quarter run that lifted third-ranked City High (5-0) to a 53-40 win over second-ranked West High (4-2) in front of a near capacity crowd at City High.

“I had no confidence the first half so I was ready to come out and do something big after halftime,” Rocca said. “I just wanted to nail it and I did.”

Rocca had a pair of 3-pointers in the opening 65 seconds of the fourth quarter sandwiched around a Rose Nkumu 3-point play as City High turned a 31-29 deficit into a 38-31 lead.

That was all the cushion the Little Hawks would need as senior Ashley Joens scored nine of her game-high 24 points in the final 6:03.

“They got a little distance and then Ashley is really tough to defend when they have a lead because she is going to put it on the floor and get to the rim and she was able to get to the line,” West High coach BJ Mayer said. “I thought our defense was good expect for that little stretch but offensively we really struggled.

The stars shined on both sides on Tuesday.

Joens did her thing, posting a double-double with game-highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds and West High standout Logan Cook had her moments with 14 points and six boards.

The difference on Tuesday was a pair of City High role players in Rocca and senior Ashley Kuennen.

“They have really been working outside of practice and that really helps when they can knock down big shots when I’m double teamed,” Joens said of Rocca and Kuennen. “It really switched the momentum and gave us a run when they hit those shots.”

West High held a City High team that entered averaging 74.8 points per game to 23 points and eight field goals through 22 minutes.

The Women of Troy had a five-point lead with under two minutes to play in the third quarter when Kuennen entered the game and nailed a wide open 3-pointer from the corner off a set play out of a City High timeout.

“I thought when we brought Ashley Kuennen in and she hit a huge 3, I think that surprised them,” City High coach Bill McTaggart said. “That was a momentum switch.”

The Kuennen 3-pointer ignited a City High spark that carried over into the fourth quarter.

Rocca gave the Little Hawks a lead they would never relinquish 12 seconds into the final quarter with a 3-pointer from the wing for her first points of the game.

Nkumu converted a traditional 3-point play following a West High turnover to make it 35-31 and Rocca struck again on the next possession.

“We had done a good job of locating the people that we wanted to locate and Paige Rocca got two 3s back-to-back where we just lost her and that was definitely not one of our game plans,” Mayer said. “We wanted to know where she was and she made us pay.”

With City High leading 38-31 Joens took over.

The Iowa State recruit scored nine of the final 13 points for City High as the Little Hawks put the game away.

“Paige scored on two set plays and I think that was huge,” McTaggart said. “It was set plays, she had her feet set and hit two big ones and then Ashley took over the rest.”

Rocca had 10 points in a win at top-ranked Cedar Falls last Friday and scored all seven of her points in the fourth quarter on Tuesday.

“Last year I didn’t play a whole lot so to start this year and come out and play against West in this environment it was just really nerve wracking,” Rocca said. “After halftime I just cooled my nerves.”

Nkumu finished with 11 points for City High while sophomore Sam Greving had five as City High played without sophomore starter Aubrey Joens who missed the game with an injury.

“I couldn’t be more pleased to get the win,” McTaggart said. “We had some kids that had never played in this game, three new starters and they came up big.”

City High       10  5  14  24 –  53

West High      14  4  13   9  –  40

City High (53) – Rose Nkumu 3-7 4-6 11, Ayana Lindsey 0-5 0-2 0, Ashley Joens 8-16 5-7 24, Ashley Kuennen 1-2 0-0 3, Ella Cook 1-2 0-0 3, Paige Rocca 2-4 1-2 7, Sam Greving 2-4 1-2 5, Team 17-40 11-19 53.

West High (40) – Cailyn Morgan 2-11 3-4 8, Matayia Tellis 0-0 1-2 1, Lauren Zacharias 4-7 0-0 10, Logan Cook 5-14 4-4 14, Audrey Koch 0-1 0-2 0, Emma Koch 2-6 1-4 5, Paige Beckner 1-2 0-0 2, Team 14-41 9-16 40.

3-point field goals – ICH 8-17 (Nkumu 1-4, Lindsey 0-2, Joens 3-5, Kuennen 1-2, Cook 1-1, Rocca 2-3); ICW 3-14 (Morgan 1-5, Zacharias 2-2, Cook 0-3, E. Koch 0-3, Beckner 0-1). Rebounds – ICH 28 (Joens 11); ICW 32 (E. Koch 7). Turnovers – ICH 10; ICW 13. Total fouls – ICH 12; ICW 17. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.