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WILTON, Iowa —The Wilton girls basketball team had opportunities Tuesday night. It just couldn’t deliver the knockout punch.

And the Beavers paid for it, losing 43-40 at home in a Class 2A Region 5 quarterfinal against West Branch.

Despite some uncharacteristic struggles offensively, Wilton pulled together one of its best defensive performances of the season, holding the Bears to just 28-percent shooting from the field and 10 percent from beyond the arc in the first half.

For nearly 3½ quarters, it appeared the strong defensive performance would be enough to will Wilton to victory, but the Bears' offense came to life over the final five minutes.

West Branch orchestrated an 8-0 run in just 2½ minutes to take a 39-38 lead with three minutes remaining in the game and it put the game away with a 4-2 run at the end.

Wilton junior Emily Lange said the primary focus heading into the night was on the defensive side of the ball, where the Beavers had surrendered 74 points to the Bears back in November.

After averaging 76.5 points per game in their two previous contests against West Branch, the Beavers didn’t think their biggest struggles would be on offense.

But several unforced turnovers and an inability to convert on open looks cost them.

“We had a lot of trouble handling the pressure that they put on the ball,” Wilton coach Jeremy Putman said. “We had a lot of trouble getting into our offense, making our first pass. We did get good shots, we just didn’t make shots today.”

The difference in the end was the Bears’ ability to hold Wilton to just two points in the final five minutes of the game.

And some of that credit has to go to the visiting crowd, which turned a road atmosphere into more of a home setting for the Bears.

“We mixed up our defense a little bit, made some changes, and we just wanted to grind it out,” West Branch coach Jarod Tylee said. “We made things difficult for them. It was all about our defense tonight. We stopped them big time, and I’m proud of our kids.”

Kortney Drake led the Beavers with 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting, and Lange finished with 15. While Aubrey Putman added five points, the rest of the team combined for one. Drake also finished with seven rebounds and three steals.

Tatum Koenig provided the spark for West Branch, scoring 12 of her 16 points in the second half while knocking down her final four field goal attempts and finishing 6 of 6 from the free-throw line.

“Tatum went off,” Lange said. “She’s a great all-around player, and Sasha (Koenig) is always in your face. They were tough tonight.”

Wilton’s season ends with a 13-9 record, but with Drake, Lange and Putman all returning next season, there’s plenty for the Beavers to build on moving forward.

“We’re definitely not going to stop,” Lange said. “We hope to keep growing in the offseason, and it’s not going to stop today. We’re just going to keep rolling for next year, so we can try to go farther next year in the postseason.”

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Sports Reporter