Jaguars maul Marshalltown in regional semifinal

ANKENY – Coming into the Jaguars’ gym as a major underdog, the Bobcats had little reason to feel much pressure or expectation.

The Marshalltown girls’ basketball team eventually applied that loose and free demeanor on the floor Saturday – it just took 16 minutes and a 32-point deficit to get there.

Limiting the Bobcats to a season-low point total, sixth-ranked Ankeny Centennial jumped out to a 20-1 lead after the first quarter and led 39-7 at halftime on its way to a 63-22 rout in a Class 5A Region 3 semifinal.

The Jaguars (16-6) advance to play No. 3 Waterloo West (20-2) in the regional final Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Roundhouse. The Wahawks defeated Ames 58-52 in Waterloo Saturday.

“I’m not sure why we wait a half, why we’re intimidated,” said MHS coach Stacy O’Hare, who later pointed to one reason the Bobcats were apprehensive early.

“(Jaali Winters) is big and I think we’re intimidated by her. We were hesitant and we didn’t look to attack. The kids were looking to do too much individually instead of working together as a team. Passing, cutting and continuing to work and move the offense, we just didn’t do any of it.”

Winters scored nine of her game-high 15 points in the opening frame and altered numerous shots and drives on the defensive end as the Jaguars left no chance for an upset bid. Marshalltown went the first 19 minutes without a field goal and connected on just four shots in the game.

“We wanted a good start and we did that tonight,” Jaguars coach Scott DeJong said. “They’ve had a little problem with their ballhandling and turning the ball over. We forced a lot of turnovers and we were aggressive. We’ve got Jaali Winters back there to clean up a lot of our mistakes if we get beat on the perimeter, so that’s a pretty good combination.”

The 6-foot-3 junior and Creighton volleyball recruit capped Centennial’s opening 14-point spurt with a basket inside, before Marshalltown (4-19) finally got on the board when Kali Banks split a pair at the line.

Winters scored four more points inside to push the gap to 19 as the Bobcats had no answer early despite surrounding the senior Jaguar with a defender on both sides.

“We came out in a different kind of defense. We picked one kid and left them open and just double-teamed Jaali all the time inside because we knew she was the one they’d go to,” O’Hare said. “Even with two kids on her, she still managed to score.”

Winters scored twice during another 14-point flurry in the second before Abby Heston drilled a 3 and Tasha Vipod beat the buzzer inside to give the home team a 39-7 cushion at the break.

The Bobcats came out a much different team in the second half with more decisive drives, better ball movement and tougher defense as they played Centennial to an even 10 points in the third.

Molly Major connected from mid-range to give the Bobcats their first field goal at the 4:50 mark and added two free throws after an Amanda Hughes trey during a 7-2 run for MHS. Sam Hughes hit the Bobcats’ third field goal of the frame from the paint and Banks buried a 3 in the fourth, scoring all five of Marshalltown’s points in the last quarter.

Major, Banks and Amanda Hughes led the Bobcats with six points apiece, while Sam Hughes scored four. Sam Hughes and Rachel Blagg each grabbed four rebounds, while Major had two steals.

“We weren’t playing as a team as much as we should have been. We weren’t moving the ball around,” Blagg said of the first-half struggles. “We played a lot better as a team (in the second half). We were passing and cutting and looking for the ball.”

The Jaguars set the continuous clock in motion for the final 4 1/2 minutes as 11 different players scored in Centennial’s fifth straight win – completing a season-sweep of Marshalltown. Kendyl Lindaman was the only other double-digit scorer for Centennial with 12, while Gabby Helmbrecht added eight.

While the Bobcats finished with just four wins in O’Hare’s debut season, the MHS head coach saw vast improvement from the squad on both ends of the court. O’Hare installed a new offense that emphasizes reading and reacting, while also seeing major strides in a man-to-man defense that wasn’t even an option at the beginning of the year.

“You can’t always judge everything based off wins and losses. We have improved as team,” O’Hare said. “I never thought we could have played man-to-man, but they have improved tremendously at defense. Offensively they’re running a whole new system that is basically reading the defense and reacting. It’s been a struggle, but I’m pleased with the way the kids have come out and worked at it.”

Notebook

The Jaguars defeated the Bobcats 76-29 in the Roundhouse on Dec. 17 and were coming off back-to-back wins over No. 7 Des Moines East and No. 9 Southeast Polk. Amanda Hughes, Emily Rebik and Kali Banks played their final game for the Bobcats, which return nine players from their varsity roster for next season.