INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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IOWA CITY — As Iowa City High went on a 12-5 run to end the third quarter in a Class 5A girls’ basketball regional final against Ankeny Centennial, the crowd almost seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.
There would be no repeat of what happened on the very same court a year prior, when the Little Hawks were topped in an agonizingly close game against Southeast Polk.
Up 34-21 at the end of the third, the run seemed to break No. 9 Ankeny Centennial (17-6). Fourth-ranked City High (22-1) took the game 48-32, with the Jaguars getting no closer than 10 the rest of the way.
“It’s hard having other teams celebrate on your home floor,” Little Hawks head coach Bill McTaggert said. “But tonight, I’m very proud of these girls, we beat a very good team tonight.”
A defensive slugfest throughout the evening, City High battled to a 19-13 first-half lead. Freshman Rose Marie Nkumu had a terrific night, ending with 12 points and shooting 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
The guard also made plays on defense and sent crisp passes flying to her teammates throughout the night.
Her biggest play, however, might have been her first. The Jaguars jetted off to a 4-0 lead early in the game, playing harassing defense and doing whatever they could to slow the pace of the game.
With 3 1/2 minutes gone, the Little Hawks didn’t have a bucket until Nkumu splashed a 3 home. Seconds later Aubrey Joens sent another triple home for City High to make the score 6-4. The Jaguars never took the lead again.
From that point forward, City High was able to open up the game. Nkumu started to find the rest of her team’s shooters who, in turn, began to make plays.
“We played our game, got in our tempo,” Nkumu said. “We’re really good at getting teams out of their rhythm, out of their game.”
Joens finished with nine points while her sister, Ashley, scored 13.
The Jaguars were fueled by Kenna Sauer’s 11 points. A force in the paint, there were a few moments were it felt like Sauer and guard Sydney Wycoff might have been able to take over the game, but were never quite able to string together enough of a run.
“Thought for the most part we were able to identify their shooters,” McTaggert said. “That, I think, was probably the difference.”
City High takes on Cedar Falls in a state quarterfinal next Wednesday at 3:15 p.m.
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