BAXTER — Free throws aren't the most part of basketball, but if the Prairie City-Monroe and Collins-Maxwell-Baxter girls basketball teams proved anything Friday, it's that they're important.
The Raiders (6-14, 4-12 Heart of Iowa Conference) went on a run and took an eight-point lead at halftime, but the Mustangs (12-6, 10-5) rallied in the third and eventually iced the game at the free throw line to earn a tightly-contested 51-49 victory.
"We didn't play but five girls in the second half with a full-court man-to-man," PCM coach Bret Grier said. "They had every excuse to be tired and have weak legs to miss their free throws, but it showed a lot of resolve for them to knock down those shots in a tight game."
The first quarter was all shot-for-shot as CMB took a 16-14 lead thanks to two late 3-pointers from sophomore Lexi Breon. PCM atually scored the game's first six points with a balanced attack, but the up-and-down tempo eventually made its way toward the Raiders.
After sophomore Courtney Van Houweling and senior Kelsey Townsend regained the lead for PCM in the second, the Raider defense intervened in a big way. Turnovers led to an 11-1 CMB run that close the half and gave the Raiders a 31-23 lead.
“We have a hard time coming out and setting our own intensity,” CMB coach Eric Padget said. “We do a good job of matching intensity once we see it, and I think that’s what happened tonight. PCM came out with all kinds of intensity and it took us a little while to realize that. When we did, we rode that momentum to halftime.”
That lead didn’t last long, however, as PCM slashed into the deficit with a 10-4 run to open the second half. Along with a defensive shift, Townsend made her presence known even more late in the quarter, scoring the final six points and hitting a baseline jumper at the buzzer to give PCM a 40-37 lead going into the fourth.
“We kind of had control of the game the first time around, but this was a completely different team,” Grier said. “The first half was totally their game and our girls looked a little methodical. We knew our 1-3-1 wasn’t being affective, so we had to go back to man-to-man for the first time since Christmas. That proved how much they wanted to win tonight.”
The game slowed down for the first time early in the fourth quarter and before the Raiders knew it, they had to foul. However, with only two fouls, a significant chunk of the clock was eaten up by CMB getting PCM into the bonus. The Mustangs kept the Raiders just a point behind for most of the half and led 45-44 when PCM reached the bonus.
“That was crazy. We needed to get them on the free-throw line, and I look up to see we only have two fouls,” Padget said. “The girls are great at playing defense without fouling, and that almost hurt us tonight because we had to foul so many times at the end of the game.”
PCM senior Krisha Houseman was the first to knock down a pair to keep the pressure on CMB, but Raider junior Abbie Haupert scored at the other end to make it a one-point game again. PCM junior Abbi Gilson then added two more before fellow junior Lexi Kain hit PCM’s sixth free throw in a row to seal the victory.
Both crowds and coaches were appreciative of the close game, which was a good representation of the rivalry between the schools. After a 1-1 split last season, PCM earned the 2-0 sweep Friday. But the rivalry remains very much alive.
“This game is really really, close, very hard-fought and very physical, which makes for great basketball,” Grier said. “Sometimes girls games aren’t a whole lot of fun to watch, but this was a great game between two teams and it really leads into a good rivalry between close teams.”
“It’s funny because I think the girls on the two teams are friends, which is unheard of in our era,” Padget added with a laugh. “There’s banter back and forth, the girls talk a lot, which makes the rivalry really fun. For a while it wasn’t a rivalry, but I’m glad we’ve been able to play them close the past few times.”
PCM 51, CMB 49
P — 14 9 17 11 — 51
C — 16 15 6 12 — 49
P — Townsend 21, Gilson 11, Van Houweling 8, Kain 6, Houseman 5
C — Breon 14, Haupert 14, Berg 10, Hennick 7, Hurley 3, Carter 1