DES MOINES — They came to the girls state basketball tournament with no outside expectations. They were the seventh seed among the eight teams. They start three underclassmen. The program hadn’t won a state tournament game in three decades.
They left with a shiny, gold state championship trophy.
North Scott completed its improbable title quest Saturday night with a 52-40 overtime triumph over top-ranked Marion in the Iowa Class 4A finale at Wells Fargo Arena.
“It is surreal,” sophomore Rylie Rucker said. “What an incredible feeling. We got it done together.”
Just two years after North Scott hoisted its first state title trophy in boys basketball, the girls basketball program matched it.
The Lancers finished the season with 11 consecutive wins — eight by double figures.
North Scott went on the road and won a regional final in the final seconds at Western Dubuque. The momentum carried to the state tournament with wins over teams ranked Nos. 2, 6 and 1.
“This is amazing,” freshman Grace Boffeli said. “I never thought this would happen. Our main goal was to just get here.”
TJ Case, though, noticed his team was loose all week. Hours before the championship game, several of them were in the hallway of the hotel playing cards.
The big stage did not frazzle a group that starts two freshmen and a sophomore.
“I think the coaching staff was more nervous than the girls in the locker room,” senior and 4A all-tournament team captain Karli Rucker said after a season-high 24 points. “We needed to come into this game calm and focused.”
Points were scarce for both teams. The game was knotted at 39 after regulation.
Marion (24-2) shot just 34 percent, including 5 of 20 from the arc. North Scott made only 15 of 56 attempts (26.8 percent), the second consecutive game it shot less than 35 percent.
The Lancers (21-5) covered up their shooting woes with rebounding, defense and foul shooting. North Scott out-rebounded Marion 42-33 and was 16 of 20 at the line.
“A lot of basketball is about hustle,” Rylie Rucker said. “We had a lot of grit, and scrappy players are the ones that will get it done.”
North Scott trailed 33-27 early in the fourth quarter, but the Ruckers combined for the team’s next nine points to pull them within one.
Boffeli made two free throws to inch them ahead, 38-37, and Karli Rucker split a pair to make it 39-37 with 37 seconds left.
Marion’s Mia Laube rebounded a missed Marion 3-pointer and converted two foul shots to tie it with 17 seconds left.
North Scott held Marion without a field goal for the final 7:49 — last 3:49 of regulation and the 4-minute overtime.
“This was a team where you couldn’t key on one or two girls,” Karli Rucker noted. “We had to stop all five of their girls because they can shoot it and all put it on the floor. Everyone had to lock in on their girl, and everyone did a great job.”
The Lancers found enough offense in the extra frame.
Karli Rucker fed Boffeli for a bucket in the first minute of overtime to give North Scott a 41-39 lead. The Lancers wouldn’t relinquish it.
Boffeli added two more free throws after she snagged one of her seven offensive rebounds. Karli Rucker scored on a drive, and suddenly North Scott had a five-point cushion with a minute to go.
Marion, meanwhile, was 0-for-6 from the field in overtime and finished with 19 turnovers.
“They made plays when they needed to,” said Marion’s Chloe Rice, a St. Louis recruit who finished with nine points.
The Lancers sealed it at the foul line for the second consecutive game.
Presley Case knocked in four straight and Karli Rucker added three as the Lancers outscored the Indians 13-1 in overtime.
“It says a lot about the girls, their effort and their character,” coach TJ Case said. “They wanted it. They weren’t going to quit, and that’s something we’ve pushed from Day 1 in our program.
“Everybody wants that journey of being a state champion. To be that one at the end with it is a great, great feeling. We’re going to enjoy this for quite a while.”
Karli Rucker had 58 points (19.3 ppg.) in the three state tournament games, more than 6 points above her season average.
“She blossomed,” Case said. “When she hit those free throws against (Western Dubuque) and came out of there pumping her fist, it was like, ‘Get on my back, we’re going and we’re doing this thing,’” coach Case said.
Rylie Rucker joined her sister on the all-tournament team along with Rice and Kayla Laube of Marion, Lexi Noonan of Cedar Rapids Xavier and Kiara Bradley of Pella.
North Scott, meanwhile, planned to celebrate late into the night. Several of the players suggested a sleepover in just one hotel room.
“This is the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Boffeli said. “We’re going to enjoy this.”