SAYDEL – Two years was a long enough wait for the Ballard girls’ basketball team.
After missing out on the girls’ state basketball tournament last year, Ballard is headed back to Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines for the eighth time in nine years after disposing of Grinnell, 49-34, in the Class 4A regional finals Tuesday at Saydel.
"We’re back where we belong," Ballard head coach Kelly Anderson said. "These girls deserve it so much. They’ve come so far from the beginning of the year until now it’s unbelievable."
Ballard (20-4) had its way with Grinnell for most of the game. The Bombers jumped out to a 15-2 lead and maintained a double-digit lead for most of the contest.
Defense was the key for Ballard.
With starting forward Gabie Doud sitting on the bench in foul trouble, Ballard sputtered on offense in the second quarter. But Grinnell barely made a dent in the Bombers’ big early lead, thanks to the tough defense displayed by Ballard.
Ballard took a 21-9 lead into the locker room at halftime. In the third quarter Grinnell began press on defense and the Tigers’ got hot from outside.
Madeline Wilkens drained three 3-pointers in the quarter to lead the charge for Grinnell as the Tigers pulled all the way within 29-23 with 3 ½ minutes left in the third.
Ballard was still clinging to a six-point advantage at 35-29 when the third period ended.
But the Bombers opened the fourth quarter on a mission. Kenzie Ihle drained a 3-pointer and Doud recorded two baskets to push Ballard’s lead to 42-31.
Grinnell never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way as Ballard’s defense again took over – limiting the Tigers to just five points in the fourth.
"We’ve been talking all week that there was going to be some adversity along the line," Anderson said. "You just handle it and go with it. They’re great 3-point shooters and they’re going to hit some along the way. But we responded right away with a couple of baskets and that was huge."
The 34 points by Grinnell matched its season low. The Bombers held the Tigers to 33-percent shooting from the field and just four free-throw attempts, and they also forced 15 turnovers.
"Our coaches kept stressing to us that defense is going to be the most important thing in the game tonight," Doud said. "Usually I don’t play that good of defense, so I decided why not start now. I came out and worked my tail off on the defensive end and it paid off."
Doud led Ballard in scoring with 19 points after making 6 of 9 field goals and 7 of 10 free throws. She also paced the Bombers on the boards with seven rebounds and chipped in three steals to help the Bombers return to state.
"Before the season started, a couple other people and I put up the road to the Well (picture) with all of our games on it," Doud said. "Every time we’d run out of our home locker room we’d smack the picture. This has been a big-time goal for us this season."
Emily Knittel – Ballard’s No. 2 scorer on the season – added 14 points and two rebounds and Ihle canned two second-half 3-pointers to finish with six points.
Ballard also received an unexpected boost on offense from senior guard Abby McGee.
McGee usually focuses most of her energy on the defensive end as one of the top defensive guards in 4A. But with a trip to state in the balance, she showed a lot more aggressiveness on offense, canning a 3-pointer to start the game and adding two big baskets in the third quarter to help thwart Grinnell’s comeback attempt.
"Everyone was encouraging each other and getting everybody pumped up and I think that helped me," McGee said. "It was a really important game, so everybody needed to go to their strengths and I did."
Alanna Dubberke chipped in two points and assists apiece and Meredith Ossian added one point and three rebounds for the Bombers. Ballard – ranked No. 7 in the final Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union poll – will face No. 3 Davenport Assumption (17-6) in the 4A state quarterfinals next Wednesday at 10 a.m.
Assumption knocked Ballard out of the state tournament in 2011 and 2012 on its way to three consecutive state championships from 2011-13. The Bombers defeated the Knights at state in 2010.
Grinnell finished the season at 18-5. Deja Jackson paced the Knights with 10 points, three steals and two assists and Wilkins ended up with nine points for the Tigers.
Ballard 49, Grinnell 34
G 4 5 20 5 – 34
B 15 6 14 15 – 49
Grinnell (34) – Jacqueline Johnson 1-3 0-0 2, Anneliese Wiltfang 1-4 0-0 3, Regan Sharp 0-1 0-0 0, Deja Jackson 3-16 3-3 10, Lauren Tielbur 3-4 0-1 6, Morgan Finch 0-0 0-0 0, Olivia Gallo 0-0 0-0 0, Madeline Wilkins 3-9 0-0 9, Christa Follette 0-0 0-0 0, Malia Durr 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 13-39 3-4 34. 3-point field goals (5): Wilkins 3, Wiltfang, Jackson. Rebounds (20): Wiltfang 5, Tielbur 5. Assists (5): Wiltfang 3. Steals (7): Jackson 3. Blocks: Jackson, Tielbur, Durr.
Ballard (49) – Gabie Doud 6-9 7-10 19, Abby McGee 3-4 0-0 7, Emily Knittel 4-9 6-7 14, Kenzie Ihle 2-3 0-0 6, Alanna Dubberke 1-1 0-0 2, Jenna Moody 0-0 0-0 0, Meredith Ossian 0-3 1-2 1, Taylor Larson 0-0 0-0 0, Sheridan Gealow 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 16-29 14-19 49. 3-point field goals (3): Ihle 2, McGee. Rebounds (17): Doud 7. Assists (6): Knittel 2, Dubberke 2. Steals: (10): Doud 3, McGee 3. Blocks: None.
HUXLEY – The Ballard girls got a great test in their first postseason game Saturday in Huxley as they downed Pella, 48-42, in a Class 3A regional semifinal game between two ranked foes.
The Bombers, ranked No. 7 in the final Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union poll, used a strong third quarter to get by the 12th-ranked Dutch and move on to the regional finals.
The first half saw neither team able to make much of a move as it ended in a 19-19 tie. In the third quarter Ballard stepped up big defensively and that proved to be the difference.
Ballard limited Pella to just five points in the third as the Bombers took a 32-24 lead into the fourth quarter. Pella got hot offensively in the fourth, but Ballard stayed close to even with the Dutch in the final eight minutes to hold on for its 19th victory of the season.
The Bombers shot 42 percent from the field and made 15 of 23 free throws. They were also 5 of 14 from 3-point range.
Gabie Doud was the catalyst for Ballard offensively. She scored 23 points after making 8 of 11 field goals, 6 of 7 free throws and her only 3-point attempt.
Doud also pulled down 11 rebounds and had two assists, two steals and one block.
Meredith Ossian was the only other Bomber to score in double figures. Ossian hit 4 of 7 3-pointers to finish with 12 points and she also had two steals.
Emily Knittel put up nine points and Abby McGee chipped in four points, six rebounds, two steals and one assist.
Ballard 48, Pella 42
P 9 10 5 18 – 42
B 8 11 13 16 – 48
Ballard (48) – Charcey Petersen 0-0 0-0 0, Jenna Moody 0-0 0-0 0, Gabie Doud 8-11 6-7 23, Abby McGee 0-1 4-4 4, Emily Knittel 2-7 5-10 9, Kenzie Ihle 0-4 0-0 0, Meredith Ossian 4-7 0-0 12, Alanna Dubberke 0-0 0-0 0, Taylor Larson 0-2 0-2 0, Sheridan Gealow 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 14-33 15-23 42. 3-point field goals (5): Ossian 4, Doud. Rebounds (28): Doud 11. Assists (8): Doud 2. Steals (9): Doud 2, McGee 2, Ossian 2, Larson 2. Blocks (4): Ihle 2.