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Muscatine knew it would have to deal with a Pleasant Valley run to start the third quarter. However, unfortunately for the Muskies, their inability to do so turned out to be their undoing.

“I felt good going into the half,” Muscatine coach Susan Orvis said. “We knew it was going to be a flurry coming out. We talked about weathering that and matching it, and we didn’t handle that.”

The undefeated Spartans turned a two-point halftime lead into a 14-point lead after the third quarter and cruised to a 52-39 win over the Muskie girls in Muscatine.

Still, despite the loss, Friday was a clear step in the right direction for Muscatine, as it marked just the sixth time in 14 games that Pleasant Valley (14-0, 11-0) didn’t win by at least 20 points. That was thanks in large part to sophomore Zoey Long’s 21 points — which she proclaimed her best game as a high schooler — as well as the Muskies’ 2-3 zone defense, which they hadn’t played at all this season.

“I was extremely pleased with their effort,” Orvis said. “For working on that (2-3 zone) for two days and expecting them to move, communicate, and adjust, they did a really good job. I really appreciated how they started possessions.

“Probably what got lost were the offensive boards, and I think that was a big key to the ballgame.”

Indeed, behind a relentless attack of the offensive glass and forcing 19 Muscatine turnovers, Pleasant Valley attempted 49 shots to Muscatine’s 25. The Muskies stayed in the game behind 52 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc.

“It was all about possessions,” Orvis said. “We know them, rarely are they going to make their first shot. They’re going to make their second and third shot, and we gave them a third shot a lot tonight.”

Still, behind three makes from the beyond the arc — two from Long and one from junior Emily Woepking — Muscatine (4-10, 4-7) led undefeated Pleasant Valley 11-7 after the first quarter. Long finished the game 6-of-7 from the field.

“The ball movement got open shots for me,” Long said. “My teammates kept believing in me and giving me the ball.”

Long also felt the Muskies’ zone caught the Spartans off guard in the first quarter, and that continued in the second, as the Spartans grinded their way to a 10-point quarter to take a 17-15 halftime lead.

Then came the third quarter flurry.

Pleasant Valley scored the first 11 points of the quarter and went on a 17-2 run, powered by a trio of 3-pointers by Macy Beinborn, who led the Spartans with 20 points, to take a 34-17 lead.

“That’s a shooter that got away from us,” Orvis said.

“It was just our intensity,” Long added. “I think they were more prepared in the third quarter.”

Still, the Muskies battled back with a 16-7 run of their own and cut the score to single digits, 41-33, with just over four minutes remaining.

“I appreciate the response,” Orvis said. “We took a timeout, and they came out, fought and righted the ship.”

However, Carli Spelhaug scored five of her 10 points to spark the ensuing 7-0 PV run that put the game out of reach.

Orvis knows there were opportunities for the scoreboard to look differently Friday in Muscatine. The Muskies committed too many turnovers that enabled the Spartans to get out in transition and allowed too many offensive rebounds.

They also attempted just 11 shots inside the arc — making six of them — and Orvis felt they missed some chances to attack the block and the baseline with high-low passing. It proved effective at times, too, as senior Kayla Scholz scored 6 points all off that action.

Still, Friday’s 13-point loss was night and day better than the 31-point drubbing the Muskies suffered at the hands of the Spartans earlier this season.

“I told them the first time we played over there we blinked,” Orvis said. “To be in the ballgame and give ourselves a chance, I was thrilled with that.”

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