DES MOINES — Basketball fans forking over money for a ticket Tuesday didn’t know they were gaining admission to a clinic on late-game execution courtesy of the Harlan Cyclones.
Eighth-rated Harlan played a near-perfect final three minutes, turning a one-point lead into a 52-42 Class 4-A girls state quarterfinal victory over No. 3 Benton at Wells Fargo Arena.
“We told them we’re not coming just to get our hair and nails done,” Harlan coach Zach Klaassen said. “We’re coming to play basketball and our goal is to win, and if you’re not in it to win it, then you better stay home.”
In its 10th state tournament, Harlan won its first-round game for the sixth time in its last seven appearances. The Cyclones (22-2) will meet No. 2 Waverly-Shell Rock (22-2) in Thursday’s 6:45 p.m. semifinal.
“All of us had really great composure at the end,” said Harlan senior Liz Riessen, who made both of her 3-point attempts and all four free throws in a 10-point, eight-rebound effort. “I was really proud of us.”
Harlan was at its best when it mattered most. Sara Petrzelka’s two free throws trimmed the Cyclone lead to 41-40 with 3:45 remaining in the game.
Jordyn Moser made 1 of 2 free throws for Harlan, and then Elle Kloewer forced a Benton turnover with 2:48 left.
At that point, Harlan decided to run some clock. On at least two occasions, it appeared the Cyclones had an opportunity to score, only to pull it out and run more clock. Finally, with 1:17 left, Riessen was fouled, and she coolly sank both shots for a 44-40 lead.
Klaassen was thrilled with that sequence.
“We got to the rim a couple times and there were bodies there,” he said. “In past games, we’ve tried to force that shot. We kicked it out to the corner, got it back up top and we ran more clock and forced them to foul us.
“And when they did, we stepped to the line with confidence and knocked down the foul shots. I was very proud of our efforts.”
Riessen grabbed a defensive rebound on a Petrzelka miss, and freshman Moser sank two free throws for a six-point lead with one minute left.
Still up six with 14.5 seconds left, Riessen’s two free throws iced it.
“Normally we get a little frazzled and tend to make more mistakes when that happens,” said senior Josie Esser, who finished with nine points and two steals. “Tonight, I think everyone on the court stepped up.”
Harlan’s ability to play nine girls extensively again paid off. Eight of the nine played between 11 and 23 minutes, with sophomore Taylor Wagner logging 30. And it never leans exclusively on any one or two players for scoring, something few teams can say.
“That’s what’s really hard,” Benton coach Laurie Donald said. “You weren’t quite sure who was going to take the shot. And if you helped on one girl, then another girl was willing to hit it.”
Klaassen called the 5-foot-11 Esser’s first half “unbelievable.” She scored nine points, including her first 3-pointer of the year on her second attempt.
“I didn’t even know it was a 3-pointer until I got on the bench,” she said. “I normally come out with a little bit of nerves. Tonight I just let it all go.”
The 6-1 Schaben had her best stretch in the second half, scoring eight of her 10 points as Benton’s legs were getting weary. Fellow sophomore Elle Kloewer scored eight of her team-high 11 in the second half, and made two steals in the final minute to put it away.
“We had spots where we had something going and it looked like we were kind of tuckering out a little bit,” Klaassen said. “And then you throw that next fresh body in there, then you get another run going. It’s unbelievable to have this many players that you can throw out there and not really lose a beat.”
Northern Iowa recruit Madison Weekly led Benton with 11 points, eight under her average. She made just 5 of 15 from the field.
Esser said her JV teammates did a good job simulating Benton’s offense. Klaassen agreed that the Cyclones’ preparation was excellent.
“I think we battled for a week getting ready for this game,” he said. “Mentally they were just ready to go.”
Now, Harlan is two victories from achieving a state title.
“Our goal was to go 5-0 in the postseason, and we’re 3-0,” Klaassen said. “We’ll see what we can do Thursday night.”
Harlan (22-2)........9 13 12 18—52
Benton (21-3)........14 8 8 12—42
H: Liz Riessen 2-2 4-4 10, Hannah Havick 0-2 0-0 0, Taylor Wagner 1-5 2-2 4, Elle Kloewer 4-8 1-2 11, Josie Esser 3-5 2-2 9, Jess Schaben 4-7 2-2 10, Taylor Leinen 0-3 0-0 0, Jordyn Moser 0-3 5-10 5, Taylor Frederick 1-6 1-1 3. Totals: 15-41 17-23 52.
B: Katrina Sindt 2-7 0-0 5, Madison Weekly 5-15 0-0 11, Alyssa Wiebel 2-7 0-0 6, Beth Thompson 2-4 0-0 4, Sara Petrzelka 2-6 2-2 6, Jenna Roe 3-4 0-0 6, Ashley Kullmer 0-2 0-0 0, Ellie Embray 2-3 0-0 4. Totals: 18-48 2-2 42.
3-point goals: H 5-12 (Riessen 2-2, Kloewer 2-3, Esser 1-1, Havick 0-1, Wagner 0-2, Leinen 0-3), B 4-20 (Wiebel 2-6, Sindt 1-5, Weekly 1-8, Roe 0-1). Total fouls: H 7, B 18. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: none. Rebounds: H 28 (Riessen 8), B 29 (Thompson 6). Assists: H 13 (Havick 4), B 12 (Weekly 5). Steals: H 9 (Kloewer 3), B 5 (Weekly 3). Turnovers: H 13, B 15.
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