WACO sweeps L&M in back-to-back nailbiters
WAYLAND — If any WACO fans made a New Year’s resolution to stop biting their nails, last night’s games were a test of their resolve.
The basketball teams played a pair of close games but in the end, claimed a sweep of conference foe Louisa-Muscatine Tuesday.
The boys’ team (2-6, 2-5 SEISC North) held off the Falcons in the final quarter for a 42-39 win, and the girls’ team (3-6, 2-6 SEISC North) overwhelmed L&M in the final minutes for a 45-32 victory after a slow start to the game.
“We slowed ourselves down in the second half, ran our offense a little better,” WACO girls’ coach Shannon Rugg said. “We got ourselves sped up in the first half — more mentally than physically, I think.”
The rushed WACO offense led to 12 first-half turnovers, and they cut that number in half after halftime.
L&M also struggled with turnovers in the game. As a team, WACO had 14 steals on the night, led by Aaliyah Brown and Jalyssa Jepson with three each.
Offensively, however, WACO was able to score just six points in the first quarter. They trailed 18-15 at halftime.
“We just had to get that first half out of the way, get the rust off,” Rugg said.
The Warriors played Friday, but weren’t able to practice before Tuesday’s game because of the weather.
“The talk in the locker room at halftime (helped us improve our offense),” Erika Leichty said. “We took better care of the ball and made smarter decisions. Late in the third quarter, we really started to pick it up.”
In the third, WACO kept pace with the Falcons and went into the fourth quarter down just one point, 22-21.
The Warriors took a quick lead on a shot by Aaliyah Brown, 23-22, and after L&M scored on its next possession, Brown laid in another basket for a 25-24 edge.
“Aaliyah Brown was crucial at the beginning of the fourth quarter with her aggressiveness,” Leichty said.
Leichty did some damage of her own later in the quarter, making three straight layups for a 6-1 run that put WACO up, 37-30, with 2:14 left to play.
The WACO lead forced the Falcons to start fouling, and the Warriors sealed the game on the free throw line.
Brown and Jalyssa Jepson each made a shot from the charity stripe, and then Jennie Greene made six of them. Meanwhile, the WACO defense allowed just one more basket in the win.
“They did a good job — we’ve been playing the last four or five games better in the fourth quarter,” Rugg said. “We’ve been in a lot of tight games, and we’re getting more confident.”
Brown had a team-high 13 points and Leichty added 12. Jennie Greene scored nine points for WACO.
Brown, Greene and Leichty had six boards each. Gaby Wagler and Jepson each dished out two assists.
In the boys’ game, Louisa-Muscatine scored the first four points of the game in the paint while WACO struggled to get on the board.
Braden Blake — who paced WACO in the game with 16 points — had the first Warrior basket about three minutes into the game.
“I thought we had a lot of trouble with their height, especially in shooting over them,” WACO boys’ coach Bob Hilmer said. “Our inside game was non-existent.”
The Warriors trailed 15-11 at the end of the first quarter.
In the next eight minutes, WACO was able to add just six more points, but the Warriors’ quick defense prevented the Falcons from pulling away.
“Our defense was good enough for us to stay within reach even when we were not scoring at the end of the first half,” Hilmer said.
WACO went five straight minutes without a basket before Tucker Janecek scored with one minute left in the half. Blake had a steal and layup 30 seconds later, and the Warriors went into the locker room down just four points at 21-17.
“We’re halfway quick as a team,” Hilmer said. “We try to get up and down the court; we like a frantic game.”
Jackson Roth was important part of the WACO defense with a team-high five steals, one of which came at a key time for the Warriors.
In the third quarter, WACO came within two points at 23-21 on a 3-pointer by Janecek, and again at 28-26 on a contested layup by Carlson. However, at the end the third quarter, the Warriors still had not overtaken the visitors.
They pulled within one on a Blake layup early in the forth quarter and then took their first lead of the game at 33-32 on Blake’s layup in transition with 6:56 left to play.
When they finally took the lead, they took it for good.
Playing with four fouls on him, Carlson made a jumper that put WACO up 36-33 and a layup by Janecek gave WACO at five-point lead, 38-33, their biggest of the game.
After L&M scored on a goal tending call, Blake sank two free throws to stretch the WACO lead back to five — until L&M made a free throw of its own and then hit a 3-pointer to come within one.
“(Blake is) real key for us — he’s got some experience; he got to start a few games at the end of last year, so if anybody has experience, it’s him,” Hilmer said. “He’s also the quarterback of the football team, so he has a lot of composure in tough situations.”
“(Last year’s experience) has helped this year in a tough game situation with knowing what to do,” Blake said.
Another player who had enough composure to go around was Dylan Carlson, who sank two free throws with just 4.3 seconds left on the clock to give WACO a 3-point lead.
“Those two free throws were key at the end — they took a lot of pressure off our defense,” Hilmer said.
In the end, the defense came up big anyway, as Roth stole the inbounds pass and prevented L&M from even taking a last-second shot in an attempt to tie the game.
Hilmer noted that his team handled the pressure of the close game pretty well, especially considering its a team with very little varsity experience.
“I just assumed that would be one of our grave weaknesses, but we did things the way we tried to do them — not always smoothly, but we took care of the ball.”
On the night, Carlson finished with 12 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Blake grabbed seven boards; Achen and Janecek pulled down six and five, respectively. Carlson blocked four shots and Janecek dished out five assists.
Next up for WACO is a road game Friday against Pekin.