SHENANDOAH, Iowa — Grace Blomstedt knows her Red Oak girls basketball history.
To be fair, it doesn’t take a lot of memorization. This is the 88th tournament sanctioned by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, and the Tigers have yet to make a state appearance.
“We did make it in 1923, when it was just invites,” Blomstedt astutely noted.
Sure enough, the IGHSAU record book shows Red Oak playing in the preliminary round of the 1923 state tournament, losing a shootout to Corydon, 12-5.
“We have a nice blue banner,” Blomstedt said.
Red Oak (12-11) is one victory from adding an unlikely banner. The Tigers rallied from nine down in the second half to overtake Shenandoah 52-40 in a Class 3-A regional semifinal at Shenandoah High School.
The news got even more encouraging after the gymnasium cleared out. ADM (13-11) upset No. 7 North Polk (19-4) 63-59 and will play Red Oak at 7 p.m. Saturday in Creston for a spot in the state tournament.
“I told the girls, ‘I just want to get (to the regional final). Let’s play well enough to get there, and then let’s find out what that’s all about,’” first-year Red Oak coach Dan Martinez said.
The Tigers are going to find out, thanks to an outstanding second-half performance. Blomstedt, a 6-foot-1 sophomore center, spearheaded the charge, scoring 16 of her team-high 18 points after the break and finishing with six steals, five rebounds and four blocks.
She also made Shenandoah 6-foot sophomore Serena Parker work hard for her points, defending her with little help. Parker also scored 18, but managed just two in the fourth when Red Oak was pulling away.
Martinez said a stronger commitment to man-to-man defense has helped Red Oak win six of its last seven games. The only loss in that stretch was a two-pointer to Class 4-A No. 8 Harlan.
“I finally convinced them I’m a man coach,” said Martinez, a longtime boys coach at Red Oak before stepping away and then switching over this year. “They bought into it better, and the key was Grace. If I can keep her from getting in foul trouble, than we can play you man.”
After Parker’s basket and a Tiger turnover, Shenandoah had the ball and a 30-21 lead with under six minutes left in the third quarter. But the Fillies couldn’t convert, and Red Oak began chipping away.
Bailey Hankins scored on a feed from Kate Walker and a putback to start a 13-3 Red Oak run that turned a 32-27 deficit into a 40-35 lead with 5:55 left in the game.
With Red Oak leading 43-39, little-used reserve Madison Gilbert took the ball the length of the court and found Blomstedt in the lane for a basket and a six-point lead with 1:30 remaining. The Tigers made 11 of 14 (78.6 percent) from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
“Give credit to Red Oak,” Shenandoah coach Jon Weinrich said. “They played very well in the second half and made a couple more plays than we did. Our kids played extremely hard, but some of them hadn’t been in that spot before. It was a good environment.”
Red Oak tied with Shenandoah for sixth in the Hawkeye Ten at 5-8, and the teams split a pair of four-point decisions in the regular season. The Tigers have regrouped after some shattering losses early. In a 4-7 start, six of their seven losses came by a combined 19 points.
“We’d get the lead in the first half and have a hard time holding it,” Martinez said. “It feels good to be able to take it away from somebody else.”
Junior Blake Bergren played a strong all-around game for the winners with 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
“I’m so excited,” the 5-10 Bergren said. “We just need to get in the gym and stay focused this week in practice. I think we can go out and do it.”
Red Oak and ADM are familiar with one another. Red Oak swept the other Tigers in a 3-A regional volleyball final in November.
“We know what their athletes are like,” Bergren said. “We just have to come out and play physical, aggressive, man-to-man like we have been and get up and down the floor.”
Blomstedt, the makeshift team historian, said that according to her father John, it will be only Red Oak’s third appearance in a regional basketball final since the IGHSAU started sponsoring the event in 1926.
Ninety years is a long time. She said the team would love to earn a fresh banner.
“One that we actually had to work for,” Blomstedt said, smiling. “I think we’re capable, if we play like we did the second half.”
Red Oak (12-11) 891817—52
At Shenandoah (10-13) 1014115—40
RO: Sabrina Guerra 1-2 4-6 6, Kate Walker 2-8 3-4 7, Blake Bergren 6-14 3-4 16, Grace Blomstedt 7-14 4-4 18, Bailey Hankins 2-2 1-2 5, Madison Gilbert 0-0 0-0 0, Maranda Gowdy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-40 15-20 52.
S: Ciera Hoyt 2-7 1-3 7, Breanna Allely 4-7 3-4 11, Jaime Runyon 0-1 0-0 0, Sydney Nielsen 1-6 2-5 4, Serena Parker 9-18 0-1 18, Jordan Major 0-1 0-2 0. Totals: 16-40 6-15 40.
3-point goals: RO 1-5 (Bergren 1-3, Walker 0-2), S 2-11 (Hoyt 2-7, Major 0-1, Nielsen 0-1, Allely 0-2). Total fouls: RO 12, S 16. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: none. Rebounds: RO 27 (Bergren 7), S 23 (Nielsen 6). Assists: RO 11 (Walker 6), S 8 (Allely 3). Steals: RO 8 (Blomstedt 6), S 2 (Allely, Nielsen). Turnovers: RO 10, S 12.
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