Bombers best Tigers in RRC showdown: Ihle leads No. 3 Ballard girls past No. 2 Gilbert, 39-33

Joe Randleman
Tri-County Times
Ballard's Ashley Wuestenberg (left) and Molly Ihle battle Gilbert's Nessa Johnson for a rebound during the No. 3 (4A) Bombers' 39-33 victory over the No. 2 Tigers Dec. 22 at Gilbert.

GILBERT - It seemed like every time No. 3 Ballard needed a big play against No. 2 Gilbert Molly Ihle was there to deliver.

Ihle forced two big turnovers and hit a pair of clutch free throws right when the Bombers needed them the most to stem the tide on Gilbert’s comeback attempt in a 39-33 Ballard victory Dec. 22 at Gilbert.

Gilbert had cut a 14-point Ballard lead to 34-29 with 4:17 left in the fourth quarter after all-state Tiger guard Ava Hawthorne scored off a steal. After a couple more minutes ran off the clock Gilbert was still down by the same score with the ball and a chance to get within a single basket.

Ihle used her active hands and quick feet to force Gilbert to give up the ball with 1:52 left. When Ballard was unable to capitalize on offense she did it again, this time coming up with a steal at the 1:25 mark.

This time Ballard capitalized on the mistake. 

Ihle was fouled and sent to the line for a one-and-one. She made the front end and the bonus to give Ballard a seven-point cushion with 1:09 remaining. 

“That’s the greatest thing about her,” Ballard head coach Kelly Anderson said. “There’s no quit. She’s so active with her hands and she’s smart.”

With its back against the wall Gilbert was only able to score four points in the final minute. Cassidy Thompson came up with a big steal and two clutch free throws of her own for Ballard and Josie Fleischmann hit 1 of 2 foul shots with 10 seconds left to close out the win and hand Gilbert its first loss as a member of the Raccoon River Conference.

“It was kind of like a state tournament-atmosphere type of game,” Ihle said. “We’re both really good teams and it was great to be able to battle it out and put it all on the floor. We knew coming into it we had to be on our ‘A’ game defensively, ‘A’ game offensively and play together as a team. I think we did that pretty well and we came out with a win.”

Ihle ended the game with eight points, five rebounds and five assists. But it was her defense that was the game changer.

Ihle came up with three steals and, more importantly, limited all-state Gilbert point guard Ava Hawthorne - a Drake verbal commit - to just four points. 

“She’s definitely a challenge,” Hawthorne siad. “She defended me well - she had a great game.”

Ballard's Molly Ihle strips the ball away from Gilbert's Ava Hawthorne as Hawthorne drives to the basket in the first quarter during the No. 3 (4A) Bombers' 39-33 victory over the No. 2 Tigers Dec. 22 at Gilbert. Ihle held Hawthorne, an all-state guard, to a season-low four points.

Hawthorne entered the game averaging 17.4 points. She had just scored 27 points to help the Tigers knock off a Southeast Polk team ranked first in 5A last Saturday.

Hawthorne was just 1 of 9 from the field against Ihle before fouling out with 23 seconds remaining.

“If we went back over the last four years and looked at the stats of every girl she had to guard I can pretty much guarantee she’s held everybody below their average,” Anderson said. “People don’t understand how important that is and how lucky we are to have her.” 

But it wasn’t just Ihle that got the job done for Ballard.

Thompson turned in her best game of the season. The 6-2 center scored a game-high 11 points and added eight rebounds.

“That’s what we need from her,” Anderson said. “That makes us super tough.”

Thompson credited her teammates for getting her good looks at the basket.

“When we’re all just working together like that it really helps,” Thompson. “Setting screens was really important for us during this game. It helped us get points inside and out.”

She also made a big impact on the defensive end of the floor. 

Thompson’s presence allowed Ballard to play aggressive defense on the perimeter all night. If someone got by a Ballard defender on a drive to the basket Thompson was there to clean up. finishing with four blocks.

“Help defense was really important for this game,” Thompson said. “It’s something we really focused on in practice leading up to it.”

Ballard's Cassidy Thompson goes up to block a shot by Gilbert's Thea Rotto during the first half of the No. 3 (4A) Bombers' 39-33 victory over the No. 2 Tigers Dec. 22 at Gilbert. Thompson had 11 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in the win.

Fleischmann came up big offensively. With leading scorer Brooke Loewe struggling - she was held scoreless - Fleischmann stepped up to hit three 3-pointers and score 10 points.

Fleischmann hit two long bombs in the third quarter, the second giving Ballard its biggest lead at 32-18.

“It’s really exciting when everyone busts their butt to get you a shot,” Fleischmann said. “When it falls everyone’s hyped - it kind of builds the momentum.”

Meg Rietz was big in the first half for Ballard. She ended the game with seven points and six rebounds.

The Bombers improved to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the conference Gilbert fell to 8-1 and 5-1 respectively.

The Tigers were riding high coming into Tuesday’s contest after crushing Southeast Polk on Saturday, 62-42.

“It definitely humbled us,” Hawthorne said. “After the Southeast Polk game it kind of slapped us in the face with reality.”

Gilbert only shot 30 percent from the field after coming into the game shooting 47 percent. But even with their shooting woes the Tigers were well within striking distance at the end.

“What I like to see is we never quit,” Gilbert head coach Mike Frisk said. “The good news is it’s early. It’s one game of many and we’ll get to play them again - hopefully a couple times.”

The Tigers are already looking forward to the rematch Feb. 2 in Huxley.

“They’re great competition,” Hawthorne said. “We love playing them and we can’t wait to play them again.”

Emma Bulman led Gilbert in scoring with nine points and she also had five rebounds and three steals. 

Nessa Johnson added seven points and six rebounds, Thea Rotto four points and nine rebounds and Katie Currans four points and two assists. Hawthorne also ended up contributing four steals and two assists for the Tigers.

Ballard 39, Gilbert 33

B    14     9    9     7 - 39

G      7     9    6   11 - 33

Ballard (39) - Cassidy Thompson 3-7 5-5 11, Josie Fleischmann 3-8 1-4 10, Molly Ihle 2-6 2-3 8, Meg Rietz 3-5 0-0 7, Lily Hillebrand 1-1 0-0 3, Brooke Loewe 0-4 0-0 0, Ashley Wuestenberg 0-0 0-0 0, Kylie Rigby 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 12-32 8-12 39. 3-point field goals (7): Fleischmann 3, Ihle 2, Rietz, Hillebrand. Rebounds (27): Thompson 8. Assists (9): Ihle 5. Steals (7): Ihle 3. Blocks (4): Thompson 4. Fouls: 11.

Gilbert (33) - Emma Bulman 3-11 2-2 9, Nessa Johnson 3-10 1-1 7, Katie Currans 2-3 0-0 4, Ava Hawthorne 1-9 2-2 4, Thea Rotto 2-6 0-7 4, Emma Kruse 1-1 0-0 3, Sydney Lynch 1-3 0-0 3, Ellie Bulman 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 13-44 5-12 33. 3-point field goals (2): Em. Bulman, Kruse. Rebounds (28): Rotto 9. Assists (5): Currans 2, Hawthorne 2. Steals (13): Hawthorne 4. Blocks (1): Rotto. Fouls: 19. Fouled out: Hawthorne.