ATLANTIC, Iowa — Aubrey Norville’s eyes welled up with tears as she flung her arms around the neck of fellow Lewis Central senior Natalie Madsen and squeezed with all of her might.
The two had been waiting for this moment for a long time.
As fourth graders in 2005, they watched the Titan girls play at the state basketball tournament in Des Moines. They hadn’t been back to the tourney since. And neither had Lewis Central.
For the past six years, the Titans have been close. Well, kind of.
Lewis Central advanced to the regional finals in the state’s largest class in each of those seasons. There was a talented team from a bigger school waiting to end the season for the Titans every time.
They suffered six straight losses in regional finals to three eventual state champions, two runners-up and a semifinalist. That streak ended Tuesday night at Atlantic High School.
Seventh-ranked Lewis Central (20-3) led nearly the entire way in its 58-46 victory over No. 4 Indianola (15-8) in the Class 4-A Region 7 final. It will face No. 5 Cedar Rapids Xavier (14-9) in its first state game in eight years at 10 a.m. on Feb. 27 in the quarterfinal round at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Norville, a four-year starter, could hardly believe it.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “I don’t even know what to do. We’ve never been here.”
The Titans certainly didn’t play that way Tuesday. After the Indians scored a basket off the opening tip, Lewis Central responded with seven consecutive points and never trailed again.
In fact, Indianola was never closer than three points the rest of the way.
The Titans held a 17-9 advantage after the first period. They were up 30-20 heading into the fourth quarter after two low-scoring periods that featured only 24 total points.
Then baskets came in a hurry. Indianola pushed the tempo. Lewis Central matched it.
The Titans scored in transition against the Indian press. Their lead swelled to 13.
Indianola was no closer than seven in the closing minutes.
“It feels great finally getting over that hump,” Lewis Central coach Derek Archer said. “We’ve been close so many times. To finally punch our ticket, I can’t be any more proud of the girls.”
Norville, who led the Titans with 19 points and 10 rebounds, said she had a different feeling going into to Tuesday’s game than she’s had in her other three regional final appearances. In the new five-class system, her team was facing school nearer its own size instead of one of the larger ones in the state.
“I felt like we really had a chance,” she said.
Madsen, Lewis Central’s only other returning starter from a year ago, agreed, stating that this year the dream of making state “seemed so much more attainable.” She and Norville have been playing together since the second grade, two years before they went to Des Moines. They’ll make the trip back together.
The two have had a goal, since 2005 Madsen said, that they’d be back at the state tournament someday.
In the waning moments Tuesday, they knew that day had arrived.
“Aubrey and I kept giving each other looks after every time we shot free throws,” Madsen said. “We knew we’d won it. We finally did it, in our senior year, and it feels great.”
Freshman Paige Beacom, one of three first-year starters in the Titan lineup, had 15 points and nine rebounds in the victory. She also had four steals during the fast-paced final quarter.
Kye Madsen had a team-high five assists and Amy Pedersen added nine points off the bench as Lewis Central wiped away its recent history in regional finals with one stellar performance.
“Don’t let them fool you, there was some nervousness in the locker room before the game,” Archer said. “There were some jittery girls. But you’d have never known it by the way they played.”
Lewis Central (20-3)..........17 6 7 28—58
Indianola (15-8).............9 6 5 26—46
LC: N. Madsen 0-2 5-8 5, Beacom 5-9 4-6 15, Spielman 1-3 0-0 3, Norville 8-15 3-8 19, K. Madsen 2-5 2-2 7, Pedersen 4-8 1-2 9. Totals 20-42 15-26 58.
I: Orwing 3-8 2-2 9, Davidson 4-13 0-0 12, Glascock 2-7 2-2 7, Kaale 2-8 3-8 7, Mahr 4-11 1-2 9, Barnett 0-3 0-0 0, Ma. Deskin 1-1 0-0 2, Mo. Deskin 0-0 0-0 0, Nicholson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-51 8-14 46.
Three-point goals: LC 3-7 (N. Madsen 0-1, Beacom 1-2, Spielman 1-1, K. Madsen 1-3), I 6-24 (Orwing 1-4, Davidson 4-12, Glascock 1-4, Kaale 0-1, Barnett 0-3). Rebounds: LC 21 (Norville 10), I 25 (Mahr 7). Assists: LC 9 (K. Madsen 5), I 11 (Glascock 5). Turnovers: LC 20, I 11. Total fouls: LC 12, I 21. Fouled out: Orwing, Glascock.