Photo by Norv Coblentz
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Sometimes its better to be lucky than good.
Tatum Koenig is plenty good so when the West Branch senior gets a little luck she becomes practically impossible to stop. That was the case for Koenig and West Branch on Friday.
Koenig beat the first-quarter buzzer with a running 30-footer that ignited a 20-2 run and powered West Branch to a 54-43 win over Class 2A No. 10 Bellevue in a River Valley Conference cross-divisional matchup.
“It was probably a little bit of both,” Koenig said when asked if her first-quarter buzzer beat was being lucky or being good. “I’m not sure which it was but it definitely gave us a lot of energy. It was a real momentum swing.”
The buzzer beater may have had an element of luck but what Koenig and her teammates did on Friday night was anything but a fluke.
Koenig scored a game-high 22 points and sister Sasha Koenig added 15 as West Branch (11-5, 10-5 RVC) won for the eighth time in the past nine games.
Bellevue dropped to 11-5 and 8-5 in RVC play with its first loss to an RVC South Division opponent.
“This is a really big win for us,” Sasha Koenig said. “To end up beating them is huge for us and it just shows how much we’ve improved.”
If the deep 3-pointer by Koenig that beat the first quarter buzzer was lucky it was the win was not.
West Branch trailed two times for a total of 36 seconds in the first quarte before taking the lead for good on a Mackenzie Heise layup with 17 seconds left in the opening quarter.
After a turnover on the ensuing Bellevue possession Tatum Koenig raced into the front court and nailed a straight away 3-pointer from just past the half court circle to give the Bears a 16-12 lead and the momentum.
“I felt like that got our team going,” West Branch coach Jarod Tylee said. “Our girls are not the most excitable bunch, they just go out there and they play, I’m the one who gets excited and when she made that shot our whole bench erupted and you could see there we were into it and ready to play.”
A Giana Michels basket to open the second quarter cut the lead to 16-14 but West Branch scored the next 15 points to break the game open.
Sasha Koenig started the run with a 3-pointer from the corner and fellow freshman Taya Young scored the final eight points of the run that spanned more than six minutes and put West Branch up 31-14.
“I thought we were patient on offense and we weren’t rushing things and Taya Young stepped up and made some huge shots tonight,” Tylee said. “We defended well. We did what we wanted to do on the defensive end and came out with a win.”
Tatum Koenig had her game-high 22 points on just 10 field goal attempts as West Branch shot 50 percent from the field.
The Bears were 9-of-18 from 3-point range as Young and Sasha Koenig combined to hit 7-of-12 triples.
“When all of us our shooting well no one can really stop us,” Tatum Koenig said. “It helped tonight to have everyone shooting well.”
The offense was efficient but it was the defense that helped West Branch remain hot.
West Branch limited Bellevue to 40 percent shooting and the 43 points were the fewest for the Comets in their last 14 games.
The Bears have held opponents to 43 points or fewer seven times in the last nine games and are allowing 39.2 points per game during that span.
“Our defense has improved so much,” Tatum Koenig said. “We started executing the past couple of games really well and that has helped us.”
Bellevue center Emma Kelchen had 10 points in the first quarter but managed just nine points on seven field goal attempts the rest of the game as West Branch focused its defense on the 5-foot-11 senior.
Kelchen finished with 19 and Rebecca Schroeder had 10 but no other Comet had more than four points.
“We have given up in the 20s to Durant, Mid-Prairie, Northeast after break and we just gave up 43 to a team that averages 55,” Tylee said. “I feel like we are doing better on the defensive end and it’s paying off for us.”
Bellevue got as close as 47-41 with a 6-0 run in the fourth quarter but Tatum Koenig hit six straight free throws in the final 2:04 to secure the win.
With the postseason pairings due out in the coming week West Branch is hoping Friday’s win over a ranked team helps its cause.
“This was probably the most important game of the season honestly just to get maybe a home post season game,” Tatum Koenig said. “We are playing well right now and we want to be playing our best at the end of the year.”
West Branch 16 15 11 12 – 54
Bellevue 12 6 14 11 – 43
West Branch (54) – Abbey Fryauf 0-3 0-0 0, Kaiya Luneckas 1-3 0-0 2, Tatum Koenig 7-10 6-6 22, Bridget Buol 1-1 0-0 2, Taylor Thein 0-3 0-0 0, Taya Young 3-6 2-2 11, Sasha Koenig 5-7 1-5 15, Mackenzie Heise 1-2 0-0 2, Team 18-36 9-13 54.
Bellevue (43) – Kailey Miller 0-2 0-0 0, Alyssa Rubel 1-3 0-0 3, Lindsey Banowetz 1-9 2-2 4, Teresa Paulsen 0-1 0-0 0, Camryn Reeg 1-6 0-0 3, Rebecca Schroeder 3-5 4-6 10, Giana Michels 2-4 0-0 4, Emma Kelchen 9-13 0-3 19, Team 17-43 6-11 43.
3-point field goals – WB 9-18 (T. Koenig 2-4, Thein 0-2, Young 3-6, S. Koenig 4-6); BEL (Rubel 1-3, Banowetz 0-2, Paulsen 0-1, Reeg 1-6, Kelchen 1-3). Rebounds – WB 22 (T. Koenig 7); BEL 30 (Kelchen 9). Turnovers – WB 16; BEL 19. Total fouls – WB 16; BEL 20. Fouled out – BEL (Banowetz, Michels). Technical fouls – None.