Free throws and a large first deficit were the two biggest differences in Friday's girls basketball game at South Tama County High School.
AGWSR sank as many foul shots as the home team Trojans shot, but the home squad made quite a few less than AGWSR. The road team also jumped out to an overwhelming 14-point lead to begin the game.
Despite a second-half rally that twice cut the AGWSR lead to one-point, South Tama was unable to ever lead in Friday's game. STC (4-5) dropped its first game after the holiday break to AGWSR (6-5). The Cougars won 48-39 in the first of two meetings between the two North Iowa Cedar League West Division squads this season.
"I told the girls that we have to go from the word go and we didn't go from the word go," STC coach Marsha Keahna said. "Fortunately, we are a team that fights well, but we can't let ourselves get down by 17 early in the game."
South Tama struggled early in the contest, on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the Trojans couldn't stop AGWSR from running its offense after the mid-point of the quarter. AGWSR grabbed an offensive rebound and scored midway through the period. Fifteen seconds later, the Cougars stole an STC pass and converted it into a layup.
Meanwhile, the South Tama offense couldn't find its rhythm. STC missed a trio of three-pointers early in the game, one each from three different girls. Following more missed shots, STC turned the ball over on three of four possessions midway through the quarter.
Junior Paige Van Dyk ended the STC scoring drought with a three-pointer more than six minutes into the game. STC had previously missed five threes before Van Dyk's shot fell. AGWSR led 14-0 before the shot and 16-5 at the end of the quarter, after another Van Dyk shot.
"(AGWSR) played the night before and were beaten pretty badly, so they came out and played like they wanted it from the beginning," Keahna said of the Cougars' 59-22 loss to Aplington-Parkersburg. "We haven't played in a few weeks."
South Tama's offensive struggles continued into the second quarter. It took more than four minutes before the Trojans scored. Sophomore Erin Clayton ended that with a layup. Senior Megan Wanatee made two free throws between a pair of AGWSR three-pointers. Junior Hailee Weiss finished the half by making one of two foul shots. AGWSR led 26-10 at the break.
"They both played well for us," Keahna said Weiss, Clayton and junior Samantha Holtz. "I knew Jade (Rohach) and Trisha (Walz) needed a rest and we needed some height on defense. Sam came in and knocked them around a bit and played well."
South Tama clawed back to within striking distance in the second half. STC started the third quarter with a 13-2 run, fueled by senior Jade Rohach's six points. Senior Shelby Bradley also hit a three during that stretch. Senior Kaleigh Sieck and junior Trisha Walz each made a basket for STC, which closed the lead to 28-23. Then AGWSR scored the final four points of the quarter.
Bradley drained another three-pointer to start the fourth quarter. Rohach followed that with a three-point play and a layup a minute later, closing AGWSR's lead to one point with 6:16 remaining in the game. Both teams exchanged baskets as STC remained down one with momentum on its side.
Then the Cougars pulled away and took control of the game with an 8-0 run during the next 3:06. South Tama missed several shots and committed two turnovers during that stretch. STC came no closer than six points as AGWSR hit its free throws. The Cougars sank 13-of-14 foul shots for the game. Meanwhile, STC made 5-of-13.
"We did come out in that third quarter and fought back so hard," Keahna said. "They showed some much character during that stretch. We applauded them for that, but at the same time, we can't get down when shots don't fall. We had a couple girls that didn't have shots fall for them and it seemed like that caused them to fall apart. They didn't handle that very well.
"That's another coaching lesson for me, because I didn't require a shoot-around today," she added. "I told the girls if they wanted to come in during my lunch break, I'd open the gym for them. Next time we have a game on a day we don't have school, there won't be a choice. We should have made it mandatory and got them out of the house and shot around for an hour."
Keahna said she was proud of the STC girls for fighting back and cutting the lead to one point on two different occasions. However, she thinks her team ran out of gas midway through the fourth quarter.
"I think we got tired late in the game," Keahna said. "I don't know if our bench is deep enough to help us. We have the height, but not sure we have the speed inside. (AGWSR) is long, lanky and fast inside. They have a really nice team."
South Tama shot 27 percent from the field as it made only 15-of-55 shots. Meanwhile, AGWSR hit 16-of-47 to shot 34 percent. Rohach was the only Trojan in double figures with 13 points. She also came one rebound shy of a double-double.
The Trojans played at Grundy Center on Tuesday night. The Trojans will play East Marshall at 6:15 p.m. Friday in Le Grand.
"If we play our game, I think we can hang with both of those teams and have a chance to beat them," Keahna said. "We just need to get back to a normal schedule of school and practice."