First-quarter Surge Leads West Branch Past West Liberty

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Photo by Rob Howe

Ryan Murken

Your Prep Sports

WEST BRANCH – Entering its meeting with rival West Liberty on Tuesday West Branch was winless against the two marquee matchups on its schedule with losses to the top two ranked teams in Class 2A.

West Branch head coach Jarod Tylee was quick to point out to his team it had another chance at a top-notch opponent on Tuesday.

The Class 2A seventh-ranked Bears wasted little time making the most of the opportunity against a ranked team.

West Branch used an 18-0 first-quarter run to take control of the game on its way 55-43 win over Class 3A No. 11 West Liberty in West Branch.

“Going into the game our coaches made clear that it was a big game and this wasn’t going to be a show up and beat them kind of game,” West Branch junior Sasha Koenig said. “We had a really good practice yesterday and we came out and got after it.”

West Branch led late in each of its two losses this season, a five-point setback to No. 2 West Hancock and a 61-50 loss to top-ranked Cascade.

In its third shot at a ranked team West Branch took control early and never let the Comets cut the lead to single digits.

“Playing the number one and number two teams was difficult and I think we learned something from those games,” West Branch senior Kaiya Luneckas said. “We came into this game know they were going to be tough and we worked hard all week. I think this showed that when we work hard we can beat good teams.”

The win was the fifth straight for West Branch which improved to 9-2 on the season and moved the Bears into sole possession of first place in the River Valley Conference South Division at 8-1.

West Liberty dropped to 9-2 and 7-2 in RVC play.

“They have come to a point where West Liberty is not on the rise anymore, they have gotten there,” West Branch coach Jarod Tylee said. “They are 9-2 and they are a good basketball team and our kids knew that. They played well and they fought for four quarters and made us work for everything we got.”

West Branch needed nearly four minutes to score its first points and trailed 3-0 before breaking off an 18-0 run that spanned four minutes and 17 seconds in the first quarter.

Using a 1-2-2 three-quarter court press, West Branch forced West Liberty into 10 first-quarter turnovers, holding the Comets scoreless for more than six minutes in the opening quarter.

“Over break we worked on this press that really benefits the kind of athletes that we have,” Luneckas said. “It puts pressure on the other team and it worked really well for us.”

The 6-foot-1 Luneckas caused all sorts of chaos for the Comets at the top of the press getting her hands on passes.

Luneckas, junior Taya Young and Rylan Druecker all scored layups following steals that resulted from the Bear press during the 18-0 run.

“Having Kaiya’s length at the front of it really helps, it’s hard for them to see over her and then we have some speed behind her,” Tylee said. “It’s something that we’ve been working with and it worked well tonight.”

Koenig hit a pair of 3-pointers during the 18-0 barrage and Kaiya and Delaynie Luneckas each had putback baskets during the run that proved to be too big of a hole for West Liberty to climb out of.

“The press was a big factor,” Druecker said. “We’ve really been working on that in practice and trying to make it as effective as we can. We worked on it all week.”

West Liberty got as close as 28-18 in the second quarter but West Branch scored the next seven points and led 37-20 at the half.

“You can’t give the ball to them over and over and over again,” West Liberty coach Matt Hoeppner said. “A little bit of credit to us we got it back to 10 but they counterpunched and they got it back to 17 at half.”

Koenig led West Branch with 14 points while Druecker added 10 and Young had nine.

Kaiya Luneckas had six points and 10 rebounds and Taylor Thein had eight points and five rebounds for the Bears.

Janey Gingerich led West Liberty with 12 points and Macy Daufeldt had nine points and nine rebounds.

“Knowing that they had only lost one game to Cascade we knew they were going to put up a fight,” Druecker said. “It was nice to get a win over a good team.”

West Branch            21  16  12   6  –  55

West Liberty             6   14  13  10 –  43

West Branch (55) – Mackenzie Heise 3-5 0-0 6, Delaynie Luneckas 1-4 0-0 2, Sasha Koenig 5-9 0-0 14, Rylan Druecker 4-13 0-0 10, Kaiya Luneckas 3-8 0-1 6, Taylor Thein 3-8 0-0 8, Taya Young 3-9 2-4 9, Team 22-56 2-5 55.

West Liberty (43) – Haylee Lehman 2-3 1-2 7, Sailor Hall 2-10 1-2 5, Finley Hall 2-3 0-0 6, Macy Daufeldt 3-8 1-1 9, Janey Gingerich 5-5 1-3 12, Averi Goodale 2-3 0-4 4, Team 16-32 4-12 43.

3-point field goals – WB 9-27 (Koenig 4-7, Druecker 2-9, Thein 2-6, Young 1-5), WL 7-13 (Lehman 2-2, S. Hall 0-5, F. Hall 2-2, Daufeldt 2-3, Gingerich 1-1). Rebounds – WB 32 (K. Luneckas 10), WL 26 (Daufeldt 9). Turnovers – WB 15, WL 28. Total fouls – WB 12, WL 10. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.

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