In the search for a signature win of the season, South Tama's girls' basketball team got one in just the nick of time.
With two regular season games, which are both at home, remaining on the schedule, the STC Lady Trojans picked up the signature win they've been looking for since late November. On Tuesday, the Lady Trojans (10-9) beat Grinnell (8-12) 67-50, avenging a loss in the season opener.
"The mental thing is over," coach Marsha Keahna said. "The doubt that we can't beat a team that is bigger or faster. All of those games where we were that close and now to finally do it and do it against our rival is a really big deal. I'm so proud of them. They've never played more like a team than they did tonight. They stepped it up and never let down their intensity. We didn't have a lull. They came out fired up the whole time and I'm so proud of them."
South Tama senior Megan Wanatee avoids Grinnell’s Jackie Johnson while shooting a layup during the first half Tuesday night. Wanatee was one of three Lady Trojans who scored in double figures during their 67-50 victory over the rival Tigers. Wanatee scored 13 points in the win.
Making the victory even better, it came against the Lady Trojans' rival. That aspect of the win wasn't lost on the STC players.
"It means a lot, especially to us seniors, because it's Grinnell and beating them by 17 feels completely awesome," senior Shelby Bradley said. "As a team, that was the best team game we've ever played. I felt like we had a lot of confidence, but we also had doubts in ourselves. We knew we were 10 times better than the first time we played them."
South Tama took control of the game from the opening minutes and only trailed for less than two minutes of the contest. After a Grinnell free throw, STC scored seven-straight points during the next two minutes.
Junior Regina Balderas scored the first basket of the game off an assist from senior Megan Wanatee. Balderas earned her first career start as she filled in for senior Jade Rohach. She impressed, especially on the defensive end, during her starting debut.
"Regina, bless her heart," Keahna said. "Regina stepped in there and started for Jade, who was ill yesterday. We put her on their best girl and she shut her down. She took her out of her game and I think that frustrated her. I can't tell you how much she meant to us tonight."
Senior Kaleigh Sieck rattled off the next five points for STC as it built an early 7-1 lead. Grinnell responded with two buckets, closing the lead to a pair of points. However, STC scored the final seven points of the quarter.
Balderas stole the ball from Grinnell and missed a guarded layup, but Bradley grabbed the offensive rebound and scored the put-back. Rohach and Wanatee each made two foul shots before Rohach scored a layup off an assist from junior Paige Van Dyk. STC led 17-8 after the opening quarter.
Both teams exchanged points during the majority of the second quarter. Free throws from Wanatee and Sieck gave STC an 11-point advantage early in the period. Grinnell slowly climbed back into the game after a couple STC turnovers late in the half.
A Grinnell steal and layup cut the Trojans lead to three points, 25-22. During the final 1:15 of the half, Sieck made a layup as she split between two defenders and she sank a three-pointer to give the Trojans an eight-point lead at the break.
"We decreased the turnovers," Keahna said. "We only had six in the first half. So that was a big one. Everybody stepped up to the line and hit their free throws for the most part. Poor Trisha. She makes them all at practice, but can't make one in the game."
South Tama made 18-of-26 free throws Tuesday night. Grinnell shot 11-of-29 from the foul line.
The Trojans lead hung around the eight-point mark for the entirety of the third quarter, despite playing without Wanatee for much of the quarter as she picked up her fourth foul. The Trojans went nearly four minutes without a point until Van Dyk hit a 10-foot baseline jumper with 1:41 left in the quarter. Van Dyk made a layup a minute later after a steal from Sieck. Bradley also made a fast-break layup 20 seconds later and STC led 40-31 after the third quarter.
"Our passing was the key tonight," Bradley said. "We could have done better, but we held up when we needed to hold up and we went when we had to go. On defense, we knew what we had to do to our specific girls. We were told to do certain things to different players, so we were definitely ready."
South Tama's offense came alive in the fourth quarter as it kept Grinnell at arm's length. Sieck hit a three-pointer, but Grinnell responded and cut the lead to seven points early in the quarter. Then Bradley sank her first three of the game after missing her first three attempts.
"It felt like a momentum booster for us," Bradley said of her three-pointer. "Everything kind of flowed from there. It felt good to make one."
Sieck and Bradley combined to score the next six points as the Lady Trojans kept the lead in double figures. Wanatee sank a huge three-pointer that might have sealed the game with 3:50 remaining in the game, as it gave the Lady Trojans a 56-43 lead.
South Tama called a timeout with less than three minutes remaining and talked about making quick passes and not pressing to score. It worked in the Lady Trojans favor.
"We told them we don't need to score right now," Keahna said. "We said we need to pass before they get to you. Coach (Larry) Rohach told them the crowd was cheering when you were doing that. They were cheering because you were passing the ball and looking like a team."
Grinnell made only three more baskets during the final four minutes. Meanwhile, Sieck made two layups, Balderas made two free throws and Wanatee sank 4-of-4 foul shot attempts.
"This is that white elephant that's been on our shoulders and in the locker room," Keahna said. "We got it and we played as a team."
Sieck led the Lady Trojans with 25 points. Bradley and Wanatee each added 13 points to the win.
South Tama will host Benton Community (18-2) on Thursday night for Senior Night.
"It kind of hope we keep playing on the same cylinder all the way through Saturday night," Keahna said. "I told them, 'Now let's go get Benton on Thursday. Let's take someone else down.' This is what we needed going into that game. We need to know we can do it."
The Lady Trojans will also play their first Class 3A Regional 6 game on Saturday. They play Mid-Prairie (15-6) at 7 p.m. in Wellman.
"We're definitely ready for Saturday," Bradley said. "We're ready."