Late Surge Leads West Branch Past Wilton in Regional Quarterfinal


Photo by Norv Coblentz

Ryan Murken

Your Prep Sports

WILTON – To say West Branch struggled on offense in its regional quarterfinal with Wilton on Monday would be a pretty sizeable understatement.

Saying the Bears came up big when it mattered most would be an even bigger one.

Freshmen Taya Young and Sasha Koenig each hit 3-pointers during a 10-2 run to close the game as West Branch rallied for a 43-40 win over Wilton (13-9) on Tuesday in a Class 2A, Region 5 quarterfinal in Wilton.

“Our kids came up huge tonight when they needed to and that’s what makes you proud as a coach,” Tylee said. “There were times when we could have let their lead grow and grow and we didn’t, we got stops when we needed to, made shots when we needed to. That wins feels pretty good.”

Sasha Koenig and Young hit back-to-back 3-pointers during a decisive 10-0 fourth-quarter run that erased a seven-point lead and sent the Bears into the Region 5 semifinals.

Young gave West Branch the lead for good with a 3-pointer with 3:03 left as the Bears avenged a pair of regular season losses to Wilton.

West Branch (17-6) will face seventh-ranked Regina (19-4) for the third time this season on Friday at 7 p.m. in Iowa City.

“You just have to keep shooting, that’s what Jarod says and we listened to him,” Young said. “He told us to keep shooting and eventually we were able to get shots to go in.”

It was far from pretty but West Branch wasn’t concerned with beauty points on Tuesday.

West Branch shot 33 percent from the field, committed turnovers and didn’t score more than 14 points in a quarter.

It proved to be enough thanks to a spirited defensive effort for the Bears that held Wilton to its lowest scoring output since scoring 31 against Cascade on December 1.

“We gave up 75 to them in the first game and 77 the second game and I told our kids yesterday at practice if we are going to win we have to make it a grinder,” Tylee said. “We aren’t going to get in an up and down scoring fest with them and I thought defensively we were outstanding.”

Wilton entered averaging 60 points per game and scored 77 and 76 in two regular season wins over West Branch.

The Bears used a combination of different defenses with constant ball pressure the one constant while limiting Wilton to 35 percent shooting.

“We really emphasized defense,” West Branch senior Tatum Koenig said. “We knew that’s what we had to focus on and when we aren’t playing very well offensively that’s all you can lean back on defense.”

West Branch shot 26 percent in the first half and trailed 21-17 at halftime.

It didn’t get much better offensively from there.

The Bears went more than two minutes without a point to open the fourth quarter as Wilton stretched a 32-31 lead to seven on a steal and layup by Kortney Drake.

Finally the West Brach offense came alive.

Mackenzie Heise banked in a turnaround jumper with 5:28 left and on the ensuing possession Sasha Koenig buried a 3-pointer from the corner following a Kaiya Luneckas offensive rebound.

The freshman guard was 2-of-8 from the field and 1-of-5 from 3-point range when she hit her only shot of the fourth quarter that cut the Wilton lead to 38-36.

“Jarod told me I don’t care if you miss 30 keep shooting until you are on. I just kept that in the back of my head and every time I missed I just had to forget it and play great defense and if I’m open again take the shot.”

Young followed with the biggest shot of the game, a triple from the wing with 3:03 let that gave West Branch a lead it would never relinquish.

Young finished with 11 points and Sasha Koenig had eight as the two combined to score 12 of the Bears’ 26 second-half points.

“Sasha and Taya have been outstanding,” Tylee said. “They have to play like upperclassmen and I’m happy for them because they stepped up and made big shots.”

Tatum Koenig made four straight free throws over the final 70 seconds to help secure the win.

Wilton had two chances in the final 12 seconds to tie but Emily Lange was short on a 3-point attempt and after an offensive rebound went out of bounds Sasha Koenig stripped the ball from Drake at the buzzer.

“I couldn’t be more proud and more happy right now,” Tylee said. “That win means a lot for multiple reasons and our kids know that.”

Tatum Koenig finished with 14 points to lead West Branch while Luneckas had 12 rebounds.

Drake had a game-high 19 points and Lange added 15 for Wilton but the rest of the Beavers combined for just 6 points as only four Wilton players scored.

“The last two times we played the they got in the 70s so for us to allow them only 40 points is huge for us,” Sasha Koenig said. “Especially when we weren’t hitting shots like we normally do we really relied on our defense and we came through.”

West Branch              8   9   14  12 –  43

Wilton                       8  13  11   8  –  40

Wilton (40) – Kortney Drake 7-11 5-6 19, Kali Milder 0-1 0-1 0, Alexis Maurer 0-2 0-0 0, Emily Lange 5-17 4-7 15, Aubrey Putman 2-7 0-2 5, Linsey Ford 0-2 1-4 1, Team 14-40 10-20 40. 

West Branch (43) – Abbey Fryauf 1-3 0-0 2, Kaiya Luneckas 1-4 0-0 2, Tatum Koenig 4-16 6-6 14, Bridget Buol 1-4 0-0 2, Taylor Thein 1-4 0-0 2, Taya Young 4-7 0-0 11, Sasha Koenig 3-9 0-0 8, Mackenzie Heise 1-1 0-0 2, Team 16-48 6-6 43.

3-point field goals – WB 5-20 (T. Koenig 0-6, Thein 0-2, Young 3-6, S. Koenig 2-6); WIL 2-10 (Drake 0-1, Maurer 0-1, Lange 1-5, Putman 1-2, Ford 0-1). Rebounds – WB 33 (Luneckas 21); WIL 30 (Drake, Putman 7). Turnovers – WB 16; WIL 17. Total fouls – WB 17; WIL 15. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.