(Harlan) For the second time in school history the Harlan girls basektball team places 2nd at the state tournament. The 8th ranked Cyclone's dropped a nail biter to #5 Cedar Rapids Xavier Saturday night in the 4A title matchup.
Xavier claimed their 4th state championship with a 53-52 win. Harlan fell behind 7-0 early on and would face a 16-8 deficit after the first quarter. A 10-3 Harlan run to start the second quarter turned the tide. The spurt was capped off by a Taylor Wagner three-pointer that gave the Cyclones their first lead at 20-19. Wagner's three was one of two that she hit in a 13 point first half. The Cyclones held a 28-23 lead in the closing minutes of the first half, but a 4-0 run by Xavier to close out the first half made it a one point Harlan lead at the break.
The second half featured even less breathing room for either team and a number of lead changes. Neither team held more than a four point edge in 3rd or 4th quarter. Harlan appeared to have grabbed some momentum with back-to-back Taylor Frederick baskets late in the third to take a three point advantage, but Xavier closed the quarter on a 6-0 run to lead 44-41 heading into the fourth.
The bulk of Harlan's offense down the stretch came from post players Frederick and Jess Schaben who combined for 19 second half points. Fourth quarter free-throw shooting though went a long ways in determining the winner. The Cyclones were 6-14 at the line in the second half and Harlan would miss their final four free throws of the game while Xavier got pair of free throws from reserve Morgan Brightbach in the final minute to go up by one.
Immediately following those free-throws, Wagner delivered a big shot for Harlan on a driving layin down the right side of the lane to put Harlan on top 52-51 with :15 left. Wagner finished with team-high 16. Xavier's Kayla Armstrong, who finished with a game high 23 points, answered right back just seven seconds later with an off-balance layup to put Xavier ahead 53-52. Harlan had 6.1 seconds left to try and work the ball up the length of the floor for a last second attempt, but had the ball stolen away before they reached half court. The steal came as time was running out giving Harlan no opportunity to foul and get the ball back.
Harlan's state championship aspirations which were just dream last spring came within an eyelash of reality Saturday night. The Cyclones finish a spectacular season with 23 wins, 3 losses, and a 2nd place trophy. They say goodbye to two senior starters (Liz Riessen and Josie Esser) who came up big throughout the postseason. Returning are juniors Taylor Leinen and Hannah Havick plus a promising group of underclassmen. Sophomores Taylor Wagner, Elle Kloewer, and Jess Schaben all made valuable contributions at the state tourney. Freshmen Jordyn Moser and Taylor Frederick shined at state as well givng Harlan fans reason to believe trips to Wells Fargo Arena will become common over the next few years.
Schaben and Wagner were each named to the All-Tournament team. Wagner averaged 11 points per game and led the tourney field in 3-point % at .444 on 4/9 shooting. Wagner was also a leader in assists with 12. Schaben's biggest impact came defensively where she averaged 10.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game.
Click here for the postgame audio with Harlan coach Zach Klaassen