Photo by Rob Howe
Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – West Branch locked up the River Valley Conference South Division title last week and put a bow on the regular season with a season sweep of rival Regina on Tuesday.
Thursday the Bears will turn their attention to next week’s regional opener and what they hope is a deep postseason run.
Right now West Branch head coach Jarod Tylee wants his team to soak it in – at least for a day.
Sixth-ranked West Branch capped an impressive regular season with a 52-31 win over Regina in the regular season finale for both teams on Tuesday at Regina.
The Bears improved to 18-3 including 17-2 in RVC play while earning their first RVC title and first outright conference title of any kind since 1972.
It’s been a while and I told our kids they’ve got to enjoy it,” Tylee said. “Our course we want to go make a postseason run now and we are 0-0 but we are going to enjoy this conference championship and this regular season for at least a day.”
West Branch locked up its first conference title since it shared the final Cedar Valley Conference crown in 2013 last Friday with a win over Mid-Prairie.
On Tuesday the Bears put the finishing touches on a seasons’ worth of dominance against South Division competition.
Sasha Koenig scored a game-high 20 points and Kaiya Luneckas pulled down a school-record 23 rebounds as West Branch finished 12-0 against South Division opponents.
“None of us had experienced being conference champs in any sport so it was really cool to do that for our school and our community,” Luneckas said. “It’s a big accomplishment for us.”
West Branch closed the first half on an 18-4 run, erasing an early seven-point deficit and taking a 21-14 halftime lead.
After hitting four of its first five field goal attempts and scoring 10 points in the opening four minutes of the game Regina (14-7, 13-6) scored just four points in the final 12 minutes of the opening half.
Regina was 1-of-8 from the floor during the second period and was held scoreless for the final 7:38 of the first half.
Koenig scored eight points during a 10-2 West Branch run to end the first quarter and Mackenzie Heise had five during an 8-0 spurt to end the second quarter.
“After that first quarter I thought we really settled in defensively and adjusted to what they were doing and started making shots,” Tylee said. “I thought Sasha was really good tonight getting the ball to the basket.”
Regina trailed by just six with 1:43 left in the third quarter when Grace Gaarde hit a 3-pointer but West Branch scored the final four points of the quarter to push the lead back to double figures.
The Bears used one final fourth-quarter run to put the game away, a 14-0 burst that lasted more than five minutes and featured eight points from Koenig.
“The first half was fine, we were in it against a solid team,” Regina coach Mary Halvorson said. “The first game we go into half 19-14 this game 21-14 we are in it we are there and that’s with scoring 3 points in the third but something switched in the second half.”
West Branch held a 36-24 rebounding edge with half of those rebounds coming on the offensive end and many turning into second-chance points.
Luneckas led the West Branch rebounding charge with 10 of her 23 rebounds coming on the offensive end.
“Against a bigger, physical team we have to match that or do more and obviously we didn’t,” Halvorson said. “The thing is we didn’t get offensive rebounds to counter that.”
The next challenge for West Branch comes next Tuesday in a Class 2A, Region 6 quarterfinal against the winner of Saturday’s opening-round matchup between Wilton and Columbus.
West Branch is going to enjoy the regular season but make no mistake the Bears would rather remember the postseason.
“The biggest thing is we want to take care of business and get to Des Moines but we want to do things in Des Moines not just make it there,” Koenig said. “We want to get there and keep going on from there.”
Elly Gahan had a team-high 10 points for Regina while Annie Gahan and Grace Gaarde each had eight.
Rylan Druecker added 10 points for West Branch.
Regina (31) – Elly Gahan 4-8 2-3 10, Stephanie Stenger 0-1 0-0 0, Annie Gahan 3-9 0-0 8, Abby Clark 1-3 0-0 3, Grace Gaarde 3-6 0-0 8, Claire Gaarde 1-1 0-0 2, Sam Greving 0-5 0-0 0, Totals 12-33 2-3 31.
West Branch (52) – Mackenzie Heise 2-7 1-2 5, Lexie Peak 1-2 0-0 3, Delaynie Luneckas 3-7 0-0 6, Sasha Koenig 7-19 6-7 20, Rylan Druecker 2-10 4-4 10, Kaiya Luneckas 1-3 1-4 3, Taylor Thein 2-6 0-0 5, Totals 18-54 12-17 52.
3-point field goals – ICR 5-12 (Stenger 0-1, A. Gahan 2-4, Clark 1-2, G. Gaarde 2-5), WB 4-21 (Peak 1-2, Koenig 0-7, Druecker 2-9, Thein 1-3). Rebounds – ICR 24 (A. Gahan 7), WB 36 (K. Luneckas 23). Turnovers – ICR 18, WB 7. Total fouls – ICR 13, WB 5. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.
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