MAQUOKETA, Iowa – Central DeWitt gave Maquoketa its best shot Wednesday, but when it mattered most the Cardinals knew how to answer.
“We grew up a bit down the stretch, did exactly what we needed to do to get the win,’’ Maquoketa coach James Doepke said after his team pulled away late to earn a 73-59 win in its Iowa Class 4A regional girls basketball opener.
The Sabers forced the issue, knocking down a dozen three-point baskets to stay in the thick of things until midway through the fourth quarter.
At that point, Maquoketa’s inside strength and depth combined with its touch at the free throw line lifted the Cardinals to the victory.
“The way they beat us on the boards and the way were able to knock down shots at the line in the fourth quarter were the difference,’’ Sabers coach Carl Small said. “Their size inside was too much for us.’’
Maquoketa piled up a 40-24 rebounding advantage and when that wasn’t helping the Cardinals get second shots, drives to the basket were sending Maquoketa to the line.
Led by a six-of-six touch by Autumn Dykstra, the Cardinals connected on 13-of-17 free throws in the final quarter to grow the 45-40 lead Maquoketa held after three quarters.
The Cardinals led 18-14 after one quarter and 28-22 at halftime before Central DeWitt drilled five three-point baskets in the third quarter, pulling within 41-40 on a Sydney Small’s third three of the quarter with 1 minute, 51 seconds remaining.
Kailey Harmon, who came off the bench to lead Maquoketa with 16 points and 10 rebounds, scored on an inside jumper and buried two free throws in the final 1:11 of the third quarter to start an 8-3 run which pushed the Cardinals in front 52-43 just over two minutes into the third quarter.
“We kept our heads up, stayed confident and kept working,’’ Harmon said. “We knew they would make a run or two at us, they’re a good team, and we just had to keep working.’’
Led by 21 points from Sydney Small, the Sabers (7-14) came no closer than six points the rest of the way.
“I saw some confidence in our free-throw shooting down the stretch and in the postseason that’s what it takes,’’ Doepke said. “We’ve spent a lot of time lately working to get better at the line and working to get better inside and in both of those areas, they made a difference for us.’’
Maquoketa didn’t match Central DeWitt’s three-point total, but a 7-of-14 touch from behind the arc led to beneficial balance.
In addition to the work of Harmon, three other Cardinals scored in double figures. Dykstra finished with 15 points, while Brie Bennis contributed 14 and Hannah Ambrosy added 13 for Maquoketa (11-11).
“It was a good team effort, and when we’ve played our best basketball this season, that’s been the way we’ve played,’’ Doepke said.
With the win, the Cardinals travel to Center Point-Urbana (18-3) for a regional semifinal game at 7 p.m. on Saturday.