WEST DES MOINES – Creston pulled off the upset at Dowling Catholic High School Wednesday night, knocking off No. 13 West Marshall in the Class 3A Region 8 semifinal by a final of 51-44.
The Panthers, trailing by one at 22-21 entering halftime, played it close to the Trojans coming out of the half, letting the deficit extend to as much as six.
The Panthers had back-to-back scores off the hands of Sam Dunphy to close out the third quarter, cutting the deficit to three at 35-32. In the fourth quarter Creston saw daylight, pulling the score to 36-35 off a Braelyn Baker 3-pointer.
Struggling at the line, West Marshall went 1-for-2 from the stripe for the second straight possession, leaving an opportunity for Creston to take the lead for the first time in the second half.
Dunphy, from the top of the key, tossed up a layup and drew a foul in the process. The shot fell, giving Creston a chance to take a 38-37 lead with the and-one free throw.
Going to the line, Dunphy tried to clear her mind and focus on just the basket.
“I just had to relax, calm down, and knock this down and get the lead” said Dunphy. “... Everyone really wanted this so bad, so we made sure that we were calm, but we could go hard and get this.”
The junior forward sunk the free throw, and then hit two more from the stripe two possessions later to give Creston a lead with a little insurance at 40-37.
West Marshall’s focus on Creston’s center Kelsey Fields drew attention away from Dunphy, giving her chances to capitalize on open looks.
“They were really trying to take Kelsey away, so we put Kelsey in the low-post,” said Creston head coach Tony Neubauer. “That opened some stuff up for Sam. She really took opportunity [of the chances]. Her 3-point play was big.”
Neubauer had faith in Dunphy, who is a 68.8% free throw shooter, when needing the extra score to tie.
“It’s big to knock those down. That’s the old fashioned 3-point play,” said Neubauer. “It gets us momentum. Our pressure did a good job and got them into mistakes and hit our free throws at the end.”
A Creston turnover at the five minute mark slowed the pace down following a game-tying triple from the Trojans’ Avril Sinning, allowing West Marshall to regain the lead at 42-40 on a score from Renae Schaper.
The lead was short lived as Creston senior Syndey Hartsock came down the floor and nailed a 3-pointer with 3:35 on the clock, giving Creston the lead again.
Hartsock, Creston’s leading 3-point scorer, said the look from outside the arc was to try and ignite a Panthers team that knew they were capable of holding their own against the ranked Trojans.
“I was just trying to get us back in the game,” said Hartsock. “I think we know that we’re a good team and we can play with them. We just kind of needed that motivation to get back into it.”
On the other end, West Marshall again went 1 of 2 from the line, tying it up at 43-43. Creston got the final lead change of the night off of a Baker three from the wing with defenders crashing in to give the Panthers a 46-43 advantage.
Baker, who had passed off potential 3-point opportunities multiple times leading up to the score, knew the need for a go-ahead basket for Creston.
“I just knew we had to score,” said Baker. “... I like to shoot it only when I’m wide open, and I knew we needed to score. So, I had to do it when they were kind of on me.”
Creston worked the clock to their favor, forcing themselves to the free-throw line with under a minute left. With the lead at seven, Hartsock dribbled out the clock on West Marshall’s season, with both the Creston bench and crowd erupting.
A West Marshall team that bodes no clear cut leading scorer, Hartsock noted the faith in both the interior defenders and perimeter defenders was one key to keeping the Trojans off the scoreboard.
“We knew coming into it they were going to have tall girls,” said Hartsock. “We knew Sam and Kelsey are tall and they play really good defense, so they can handle it, but we also knew they had good shooters too, so Braelyn and I kind of took it upon ourselves to just not let them get open shots.”
A team that has struggled in the second half at holding the lead a few times this season, Creston’s plan was to take it possession by possession and to play hard coming out of halftime.
“At halftime we talked about weathering the storm a little bit,” said Neubauer. “They (West Marshall) shot really well and we got out of our zone for that. We were down by six, and we had to keep playing hard. ... Playoff basketball is a grind. You can’t win the game on one or two possessions. You need to have a stop, good possession, stop, good possession. That’s what we did.”
Overall, Neubauer is happy with how his team handled themselves and worked for the upset win.
“Just a team effort,” said Neubauer. “We did a lot of good things, ... just a total team effort and we’re excited to get another chance at Red Oak.”
Creston was led in scoring by Dunphy’s 17 points. Fields scored 12 with Baker and Hartsock scoring 11 and six, respectively.
Baker and Hartsock combined for five 3-pointers. Rylie Driskell also had a three, finishing with three points.
With Red Oak’s Sophie Walker dressed and active in its 62-50 regional semifinal win over Atlantic Wednesday night, Creston could potentially see the Class 3A 2019 all-state third teamer for the first time this season due to her battles with injury.
Knowing how lethal of a threat Walker is, Neubauer said he’s going to watch film from Red Oak’s semifinal win to assess how Creston will play against her.
“Got to see the game film first. Got to see how she was in moving,” said Neubauer. “Red Oak’s good. We got hit with physicality and we didn’t take care of the basketball at home against them. ... I told the girls the pressure is off, the pressure is on them (Red Oak) and this is supposed to be their year they go to the state tournament. Just go after them and lay it on the line.”
Next up for the Panthers is a date with Red Oak Saturday at 4 p.m. Creston is 0-2 against the Tigers this season, losing 49-42 Jan. 13 and 55-35 Feb. 7. The site, originally scheduled for Waukee, has yet to officially be determined due to the potential for rescheduling.
In both games, Creston held leads at halftime before a Red Oak comeback.
Creston 51, West Marshall 44
WM (44) — 19 8 8 9
CRE (51) — 12 7 13 19
WEST MARSHALL (FG FT PTS) — Totals —17 7-10 44. Teresa Disney 4 2-4 10, Avril Sinning 3 0-0 9, Katy Rayerson 3 3-5 9, Renae Schaper 4 0-0 8, Karlyn Snider 2 2-4 6. 3-point goals — 3 (Sinning). Team fouls — 16. Fouled out — Snider.
CRESTON (FG FT PTS) — Totals — 18 9-12 51. Sam Dunphy 6 5-6 17, Kelsey Fields 5 2-3 12, Braelyn Baker 3 2-4 11, Sydney Hartsock 2 1-2 6, Rylie Driskell 1 0-0 3, Brianna Fields 1 0-0 2. 3-point goals – 6 (Baker 3, Hartsock 2, Driskell). Team fouls — 11. Fouled out — None.