It’s all in the timing.
Ask the Linn-Mar boys basketball team.
The Lions’ late-season surge continued Friday with a second-half rally that sidelined eighth-rated Pleasant Valley 55-47 in an Iowa Class 4A substate semifinal game.
"The first half we played their game and that didn’t work," Linn-Mar junior Trey Hutcheson said. "The second half, we came out played our game and it made all the difference."
The win was the Lions’ fifth straight and it sends Linn-Mar at 13-11 into a Tuesday substate final against Muscatine, which beat Davenport North 60-55 on Friday.
Linn-Mar separated itself from the Spartans early in the fourth quarter, connecting on five of its first six shots to extend what had been a 33-32 lead after three quarters.
"It had the feel of one of those games that if one team could score on three or four straight possessions, it was going to be enough separation to make a difference, and those shots early in the fourth quarter were the difference," Pleasant Valley coach Steve Hillman said.
A Greg Hall field goal, followed by a 3 from Hutcheson and a Jacob Robertson basket during the first two-and-a-half minutes of the final quarter led the Lions to a lead that reached 45-36 when Hutcheson completed a three-point play with 3 minutes, 46 seconds remaining.
Pleasant Valley pulled within 51-46 with :38 to play on a 3-point basket by Carter Duwa, but Hutcheson finished things off for Linn-Mar by connecting on all nine free throws he attempted in the final quarter as part of a 19-point performance.
"He didn’t miss down the stretch and really all night their length at every position — it seemed like they were 6-foot-4 to 6-7 across the board — gave us some problems," Hillman said. "I don’t think our guys played particularly poorly. They just played better than we did, particularly early in the fourth, and that was the difference."
Duwa and Brian Dayman led the Spartans (19-3), finishing with 17 and 15 points respectively.
A 6-0 junior, Duwa scored seven of his points in the opening quarter as Pleasant Valley opened a 13-5 advantage in the game’s first six minutes, a margin Linn-Mar cut to 13-12 on two of Robertson’s 12 points on a basket with :02 left in the quarter.
"We dug ourselves a pretty good hole early. I don’t know if it was nerves or what, but we weren’t ourselves," Lions coach Chris Robertson said. "But, we didn’t lose our fight. We kept competing and got ourselves back in it."
Linn-Mar shot 50 percent on 38 field goal tries for the game and helped itself with an 11-of-13 touch at the line.
A 3-pointer by Jaren Nelson gave the Lions their first lead of the game at 21-20 with 1:11 remaining in the first half before a buzzer-beater by Duwa sent the Spartans into the locker room with a 22-21 lead at the break.
A pair of 3s to open the third quarter — one by Nelson and the other by Jacob Robertson — forced Pleasant Valley to play from behind the rest of the game.
"Those 3s gave us confidence, and once we had a lead, I felt like we had them back on their heels a bit," Hutcheson said. "When they pressured, we were able to get behind their defense for a couple of scores. We were playing our game, and we knew then we could get this game."