BAXTER — The Class 1A No. 15 Baxter girls’ basketball team led 12th-ranked Collins-Maxwell by two points after three quarters and one of the Spartans’ starters was on the bench with an ankle injury.
The Bolts had a big opportunity to pull away for good with junior Lexi Houge on the bench.
Instead, Collins-Maxwell dominated the fourth quarter and advanced to the Class 1A Region 6 championship game with a 57-47 road win over the Bolts on Friday night.
“I didn’t feel like we relaxed because (Houge) was not in the game,” Baxter girls basketball coach Eric Padget said. “They might have just been rallying around their teammate.”
Lexi Houge never returned to the game, but her younger sister, freshman Erica Houge, took over in the fourth quarter to lift the Spartans to their first-ever regional final.
Erica Houge scored 12 of her game-high 22 points in the final frame. She started the fourth with back-to-back buckets and made all eight of her free throw attempts in the period. Erica Houge also grabbed nine boards.
The Spartans were 10-of-10 from foul line in the fourth after hitting just 3-of-8 in the second quarter. They were 23-of-30 from the line in the game but also finished 0-of-14 from 3-point range.
“The anomaly was early when they were missing,” Padget said. “They are a good free throw shooting team. We were lucky that they were missing early.”
The Bolts set a program record with 20 wins this season. Two of their three losses came against Collins-Maxwell, which improved to 22-1.
Baxter struggled with turnovers, gave up too many offensive rebounds and were 4-of-10 from the foul line in the latest meeting against the Spartans.
But even with that, the game was tied at 27-all at halftime and Baxter led 43-41 after three.
“We were in pretty good shape at halftime considering we turned it over too much and didn’t rebound very well,” Padget said.
The Bolts were in good shape until the fourth quarter because they had an incredible shooting night from 3-point range.
They trailed 20-15 after one quarter and all 15 points came off made 3-pointers by Maddie Pierce, Elie Tuhn and Sophie Meyer.
Pierce added two more treys in the second period to keep her team in it. But the Bolts missed the front end of two one-and-ones at the line and Meyer, Lilie Vansice and Merrin Ziesman all were in foul trouble.
Vansice picked up her fourth foul on the Spartans’ first possession of the third quarter.
But the Bolts stayed hot from outside. Pierce’s 3 put Baxter in front 30-29. A triple by Meyer kept the Bolts ahead briefly, but Reagan Franzen scored six of the Spartans’ next eight points to put the visitors back into the lead at 39-33.
Franzen, who averages 19 points per game, put in 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for Collins-Maxwell. Padget said his team worked on finding ways to slow down Franzen in practice for two straight days. She’s just really good.
“That was our total emphasis for two nights. She’s just a really good player,” Padget said. “She’s the best player in the region. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
The hot shooting for Baxter continued as Brooke Bacon hit a 3 and Meyer went back-to-back from outside to give the Bolts a 42-39 lead. It was 43-41 after three.
Baxter was 13-of-30 from 3-point range in the game. The Bolts only made two shots from two-point range. They shot 35 percent from the floor in the loss and also committed 16 turnovers.
“We had a really good shooting night. We made shots,” Padget said. “They just beat us tonight.”
The Bolts were outscored 16-4 in the fourth. Meyer hit another trey and Pierce made a free throw with 19.5 seconds to play. But the Spartans scored the first eight of the frame to pull away.
Collins-Maxwell had a strong night from the foul line but it was set up because the Spartans got plenty of extra opportunities with strong offensive rebounding. They out-rebounded the Bolts 44-24 and had 17 offensive rebounds.
“We talked about it. Took timeouts to talk about it. They are just relentless,” Padget said. “They have been coached well at it. They don’t go through you, they side step you and make it hard to block out.”
Pierce finished with 18 points and three rebounds to lead the Bolts in her final prep game. Meyer had 17 points and Tuhn tallied eight points, four rebounds and five assists.
Vansice and senior McKenzie Eslinger were held scoreless, but Vansice grabbed seven rebounds before fouling out and Eslinger pulled down five boards. Bacon scored four points, too.
Notes: Turnovers have been an issue for Baxter this season, even in wins. Padget said part of that is because the Bolts want to play fast and push the tempo. “We know we are going to have some turnovers,” Padget said. “The trade off is we are going to get some layups and increase the tempo of the game, which a lot of teams can’t handle. This team can handle that though.” … Collins-Maxwell plays 1A No. 7 Montezuma in the regional final at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in Pleasantville. The Bravettes eliminated the Spartans, 68-49, in a regional semifinal last year. ... Baxter graduates seven seniors, including Meyer, Eslinger, Pierce, Ziesman, Bacon, Cassy Berg and Lexi Samson.