PELLA — At halftime, things weren't looking too good for the Prairie City-Monroe girls basketball team Thursday night.
Despite trailing by 13 after just a five-point second quarter, the Mustangs rallied to take the lead in the fourth, but eventually fell just one basket shy of completing the comeback, losing 46-44 to Pella Christian.
"I was really happy with the girls' effort tonight," PCM coach Bret Grier said. "We told them before the game that they'd have to play a full 32 minutes to compete against a really good Pella Christian team. Unfortunately, we had just a little lull in the first half and they just stretched a lead out."
Neither team clicked offensively until a few minutes into the game thanks to some stout defense on both ends. Sophomore Courtney Van Houweling, junior Abbi Gilson and senior Krisha Houseman contributed points as the Mustangs (2-4, 1-3 Heart of Iowa Conference) battled to a 7-7 draw with the Eagles after one quarter.
That gridlock would change drastically in the second quarter as the Eagles unleashed a press on PCM and forced multiple turnovers as a result. PCM still managed to get shots off, but couldn't seem to get them to fall. Meanwhile, Pella Christian got post contributions from senior Cori Uitermarkt and sophomore Hannah Beltman to end the half on a 9-2 run and take a 25-12 lead into the break.
“Defensively, I think the main thing was their press got to us a little bit,” Grier said. “Offensively, we were just pretty stagnant. We didn’t get to the basket very much and just settled for early jumpshots, so that kind of hurt us.”
At first, the Eagles seemed primed for a blowout with a three-point play in the opening minute of the third quarter, but PCM came alive by giving Pella Christian a dose of its own medicine. Led by a impressive performance off the bench by junior Lexi Kain, the Mustangs quickly turned the tide with a press of their own and closed the deficit to 29-20 after just two minutes.
After Kain dumped in nine points, senior Kelsey Townsend connected on a 3-pointer in the closing minute to make it a two-point game. Gilson then added one free throw to put the score at 34-33 going into the fourth quarter.
“We knew Lexi Kain would be playing most of the second half because she’s such a great athlete and we knew we were going to need her speed for pressing,” Grier said. “I told her to be ready to go, and she did. She played wonderful.”
Two more free throws by Gilson and a three from Houseman gave the Mustangs their first lead since the first quarter just a few possessions into the fourth. However, Uitermarkt awoke the Eagles from their slump and regained the lead with six quick points with about 1:30 to go.
“I told them to keep the intensity on and see how things go, and that might’ve been a dumb coaching decision by me,” Grier said with a laugh. “I wanted to keep it on them, and Pella Christian did a great job changing a few things.”
Gilson, Townsend and Van Houweling answered each Eagle shot, and the Mustangs were bailed out when Pella Christian couldn’t cash in on a breakway layup with just 16.5 seconds left on the clock. PCM got its look on the other end, but the potential game-tying shot bounced off the rim and into Pella Christian’s hands. A missed free throw allowed a full-court toss from Townsend, but that also missed the mark and put an end to PCM’s potential comeback.
The Mustangs lost senior Kaitlyn Wilkie to a knee injury last week and Van Houweling is playing with a broken nose, so a victory Thursday could’ve done wonders for the short-handed team. However, with another tough game at Roland-Story tonight, PCM is simply looking ahead.
“We’ll find out if we have any momentum tomorrow night,” Grier said. “We would’ve like to get a three-game sweep this week and almost had tonight’s game, so we’ll just see what happens tomorrow night.”
Pella Christian 46, PCM 44
PCM — 7 5 21 11 — 44
PC — 7 18 9 12 — 46
PCM — Gilson 14, Kain 9, Van Houweling 7, Townsend 8, Houseman 4, Telfer 2
PC — Engbers 18, Uitermarkt 12, Beltman 6, Vander Hart 6, Fopma 4