DES MOINES — Rachael Saunders sat in sweats with crutches nearby and watched her team’s season end last March in the Class 5A girls’ state basketball semifinals.
A year after a torn ACL in a quarterfinal win spoiled her state tournament, Saunders scored 14 points and No. 9 Iowa City West advanced to the Class 5A title game with a 58-45 semifinal win over No. 10 Indianola at Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday.
The Women of Troy (19-7) will get a third shot at rival Iowa City High (25-0), the top-ranked team in 5A, in the final at 6 p.m. Friday.
“I really owe it to my team. They did nothing but encourage me and help me through this entire ordeal, this entire year,” Saunders said. “Being here right now is an incredible blessing.”
West’s defense will be key against a City High team with a variety of weapons, led by Ashley Joens, the state’s leading scorer. If the Women of Troy can replicate Thursday’s effort, they’ll be in good position.
Missouri commit Grace Berg (15 points) and Iowa State commit Maggie McGraw (13 points) combined to shoot 6 of 25 from the field as West tossed a variety of defenders at them.
“McGraw and Berg are phenomenal players and I thought we made them work really hard,” West Coach B.J. Mayer said. “They got all their points basically from the line.”
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After rallying from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat West Des Moines Dowling in overtime in Monday’s quarterfinal round, West started both halves hot Thursday.
West sprinted to a 9-0 lead behind Saunders’ seven early points and held Indianola (21-14) without a field goal for the first 4:15.
The Indians quickly rallied to within 13-10 at the end of one quarter and took a 17-16 lead on Madie Sorensen’s layup in the second quarter. Logan Cook answered immediately for West, then Saunders converted a three-point play and Audrey Koch and Lauren Zacharias hit back-to-back 3s.
The Women of Troy scored the first seven points of the second half to build a 38-22 lead. The Indians cut it to 40-35 with 5:31 left, but West was 18 of 24 at the free-throw line and iced it there.
Saunders was still out for the first West-City game, a 53-40 result on Dec. 12. City’s 79-70 win on on Jan. 23 was part of West’s four-game losing streak. The Women of Troy have won seven straight since.
“It’s incredibly special. We want to represent Eastern Iowa,” Saunders said. “We’re the underdogs. We love that position and we’re going to play the best we can.”
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