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Your Prep Sports
DES MOINES – One year was long enough for Rachael Saunders.
After spending the last year wondering ‘what if’ Saunders was ready to be done having that question rattling around in her head.
Saunders left that ‘what if’ feeling behind for good on Thursday helping West High end its recent semifinal struggles with a 58-45 win over No. 10 Indianola (21-4) at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
A year to the day after tearing her ACL in a state quarterfinal win a Saunders scored 14 points to lead four players in double figures as West High (18-7) returned to the state title game for the first time since 2012.
“I didn’t know if I would be here, last year being here on crutches was hard,” Saunders said. “Injuries are always hard but my team had my back all the way, they’ve always been with me and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Saunders was reduced to a spectator role for last year’s semifinal, after leaving the quarterfinal in the first quarter with what turned out to be a torn ACL.
West High lost to eventual champion West Des Moines Valley for the second time in three seasons in the semifinals.
On Thursday Saunders put the memories of those two semifinal losses and months of rehab behind her.
“We’ve lost in the semifinals my freshman and junior year so we knew this was the hump that we had to get over,” Saunders said. “We always kind of get tripped up at this point but we are really excited for tomorrow.”
Saunders scored seven of her team-high 14 points during a 9-0 run to start the game as West High ran its winning streak to seven with its third consecutive win over a top-10 team.
The 5-foot-8 senior scored the first five points of the game and her jumper with 5:40 left in the opening quarter put West High up 9-0.
“She is our emotional leader and it’s been a long road back for her,” West High coach BJ Mayer said. “She was ready to go at the beginning and you saw eight or 10 points right away and we really feed off her energy and so when she did that it was good to see.”
West High trailed once, for 20 seconds at 17-16, but answered with a 5-0 run capped by a conventional 3-point play by Saunders and never trailed again.
Cailyn Morgan had 14 points and six rebounds while Emma Koch and Lauren Zacharias each had 10 points for West High.
This game was still all about Saunders.
“This meant so much for Rachael, we all watched her go through that recovery process and it was really hard to watch honestly so we definitely all fed off of her today,” Koch said. “The way she started off the game, I knew we weren’t letting Rachael lose today.”
West High will now get a third shot at top-ranked City High (25-0) in the Class 5A state title game on Friday at 6 p.m.
City High won each of the two regular season meetings by 13 and nine points.
“This year we were so focused on getting past this game,” Koch said. “We were tired of losing in the semifinals, there was a really big emphasis on winning this game.”
West High closed the first half with an 8-3 run to take a 31-22 halftime lead.
Freshman Audrey Koch and Zacharias had back-to-back 3-pointers during the 8-3 West High spurt to end the half.
West High opened the second half on a 7-0 run to take its biggest lead of the game at 38-22.
The Women of Troy held Indianola scoreless for more than four minutes during the 7-0 burst that started with a Saunders jumper.
“They are a second-half team and if we let them hang around they were going to come back and it would bite us in the butt,” Saunders said. “We had to come out strong at the beginning of the game and the third quarter and do what we know how to do.”
Indianola made a run, getting as close as five points twice in the fourth quarter but West High had every answer.
Zacharias put West High up 44-37 with a layup with 3:18 left and West High neve let the Indians get closer than six the rest of the way.
West High held the Indianola duo of Grace Berg and Maggie McGraw in check while limiting the Indians to 27 percent shooting.
After combining for 55 points in a quarterfinal upset of Cedar Falls the duo was held to 28 points on combined 6-of-22 shooting on Thursday.
“McGraw and Berg are phenomenal players and I thought we made them work really hard,” Mayer said. “McGraw was 3-of-9 and Berg was 3-of-13 and they got all their points basically from the line so we wanted to make it hard on them and that’s a credit to our kids.”
Berg had a game-high 15 points and 11 rebounds while McGraw had 13 points but Indianola was held to 45 points, it’s lowest total since a January 6 loss to Marion.
“Playing defense has been really big for us these past two games,” Koch said. “We have played against great players and great teams and we’ve had to play our best defensive games.
West High 14 17 7 20 – 58
Indianola 10 12 9 14 – 45
West High (58) – Cailyn Morgan 5-10 3-5 14, Lauren Zacharias 3-6 3-4 10, Rachael Saunders 5-12 3-5 14, Logan Cook 1-4 3-4 5, Emma Koch 2-6 6-6 10, Matayia Tellis 0-1 0-0 0, Audrey Koch 1-2 0-0 3, Paige Beckner 1-3 0-0 2, Team 18-44 18-24 58.
Indianola (45) – Maggie McGraw 3-9 6-10 13, Madie Sorensen 4-9 0-2 9, Carrington Kuehl 1-5 0-0 3, Liza Lathrum 1-8 2-2 5, Grace Berg 3-13 9-10 15, Kendall Clatt 0-1 0-0 0, 12-45 17-24 45.
3-point field goals – ICW 4-15 (Morgan 1-3, Zacharias 1-3, Saunders 1-3, Cook 0-1, E. Koch 0-1, A. Koch 1-2, Beckner 0-2); IND 4-22 (McGraw 1-5, Sorensen 1-3, Kuehl 1-5, Lathrum 1-7, Berg 0-2). Rebounds – ICW 34 (E. Koch 9); IND 31 (Berg 11). Assists – ICW 7 (Morgan 3); IND 5 (Berg 3). Turnovers – ICW 12; IND 12. Total fouls – ICW 19; IND 20. Fouled out – IND (McGraw). Technical fouls – None.