IOWA CITY — The Muscatine girls basketball team's season came to an end Saturday night, but the Muskies didn't let sixth-ranked Iowa City High escape without a fight.
The Muskies trailed by only two points after the opening quarter, but the Little Hawks took advantage of Muscatine’s Alicia Garcia foul trouble on their way to a 63-51 victory in a Class 5A regional semifinal.
With Garcia on the bench, Iowa City High outscored Muscatine 21-6 in the second quarter.
“It was unfortunate we had to take Alicia out, we just couldn’t get in a position where she picked up three early (fouls), and I really thought we were hanging in there with our lineup and our bench," Muscatine coach Susan Orvis said. "That was a tough stretch for us, I thought that the second quarter turned the ball game."
Iowa City High’s Aubrey Joens took over in the second quarter. After a scoreless first quarter, Joens had 13 points by halftime and ended with a game-high 25.
In the third quarter, Muscatine played Iowa City High (18-2) to a stalemate. But by then, most of the damage was done. The Muskies couldn’t make up the difference from that point on.
Muscatine (8-13) kept pushing. Iowa City High had all the answers every time the Muskies looked to make a push and decrease the gap.
A few late free throws made the final score a bit deceiving.
The real momentum killer came with about two minutes left in the game when the Little Hawks forced a Muskie turnover and started a break led by junior guard Rose Marie Nkumu. She proceeded to fake a pass to a teammate in the corner which drew the Muscatine defender, leaving Nkumu with a wide-open layup.
Nkumu then sealed it with three free throws on her way to finishing with 23 points.
Free throws offered an additional problem for Muscatine.
It had trouble getting to the line, at least in comparison to their opponent. The Muskies were 8 of 15 from the charity stripe while the Little Hawks went 16 of 26.
In December, Muscatine lost to Iowa City High 65-19.
“City High is so dangerous in transition," Orvis said. "We talked a lot this week about taking care of the ball. The first time we were over here we coughed it up quite a bit and gave up a lot of layups. I thought we curbed a lot of that tonight, but there were a few (that allowed City) to make a run."
Sophomore Zoey Long made four 3-pointers and led the Muskies with 18 points. Emily Woepking chipped in nine and Garcia finished with eight.
Despite the always-somber nature of season-ending losses, comparing the two games against the Little Hawks does offer an encouraging sign for how far the young Muskies have come in a short time.
“This is a real encouragement to our younger players,” Orvis said, “The kids that are coming back realized tonight what they can be and hopefully we can just bottle it, save it and remember this feeling a little bit because it was a bit of breakthrough for our bunch."