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There was no moment of awakening, no specific turning point.
“I think, more than anything, we were kind of at the mercy of our schedule at the beginning of the season,” Cedar Rapids Xavier girls’ basketball coach Tom Lilly said.
“We had Johnston, Iowa City West and Cedar Falls (among our first five games). Those are some (Class) 5A juggernauts, and it puts you in a challenging place.”
The schedule has softened somewhat, and now the Saints are pushing back.
Sixth-ranked Xavier (16-6) takes a nine-game winning streak — its longest in 12 years — into Tuesday’s Class 4A regional final against No. 13 Waverly-Shell Rock (16-6). Tipoff is 7 p.m. at Ron Thillen Gymnasium.
It’s one of six games Tuesday featuring area teams. Also in 4A, No. 1 Marion (21-1) hosts Keokuk (15-6), and No. 7 Western Dubuque (21-1) entertains No. 8 North Scott (17-5).
In 5A, No. 3 Iowa City West (19-3) hosts No. 13 Southeast Polk (14-8), No. 4 Iowa City High (21-1) hosts No. 9 Ankeny Centennial (17-5) and Linn-Mar (12-10) travels to No. 7 West Des Moines Dowling (18-4).
Winners advance to the state tournament next week.
Lilly is trying to take his 12th Xavier team to state in the last 18 seasons. He has won four championships.
“Our kids have started to understand their roles,” he said. “It’s kind of like soup ... you’re trying to find out how much you need of each ingredient.”
Marion has used a “hard-hat” theme all season, and when the season began, had a countdown of 118 days until state-championship night. That number now stands at 12.
“I’ll remind them of that before we play,” Indians Coach Corby Laube said. “When we first started, it seemed so far away.
“Now, our end goal is in sight.”
The Central Iowa Metro League has ruled the 5A scene lately — each of the last four big-school finals have been all-CIML affairs. And last year, City High and West both were upset at home by CIML teams.
City has a shot at redemption when it faces Centennial, the defending state champion. West gets its shot at Southeast Polk, the 2013 champ.
TUESDAY’S CLASS 5A REGIONAL FINALS
LINN-MAR (12-10) at No. 7 WEST DES MOINES DOWLING (18-4)
Time: 7 p.m.
Overview: It’s a regional-final rematch (Linn-Mar won last year’s game, 61-49), but this time around, it’s Dowling with the home-court advantage. The Lions snapped a six-game losing streak with a 49-34 win over 15th-ranked Dubuque Hempstead on Saturday behind Kamryn Finley (17 points) and Megan Murphy (15). A junior and a UNI recruit, Finley leads the Lions at 14.6 points per game. Dowling is a state-tournament regular, with 18 appearances in the last quarter-century. Freshman Caitlin Clark paces the Maroons at 15.1 points per game, and juniors Josie Filer and Anna Wanek add 11.1 apiece.
BC Moore computer projection: Dowling by 18.
No. 13 SOUTHEAST POLK (14-8) at No. 3 IOWA CITY WEST (19-3)
Time: 7 p.m.
Overview: West hosts a battle-tested Southeast Polk squad that, according to the BC Moore computer, has endured the toughest schedule of anybody in the state. The Women of Troy won the MVC Mississippi Division title behind a balanced attack. Junior Logan Cook averages 15.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and future Creighton Bluejay Rachael Saunders adds 12.7 points per contest. Southeast Polk is pursuing its seventh consecutive state appearance. The Rams have lost four of their last seven games but have a pair of stalwarts in Sierra Mitchell (18.3 ppg) and Shiloh Mitchell (15.3).
BC Moore computer projection: West by 11.
No. 9 ANKENY CENTENNIAL (17-5) at No. 4 IOWA CITY HIGH (21-1)
Time: 7 p.m.
Overview: The Central Iowa Metro League has won the last four 5A titles, and it was Centennial that cashed in last season. It was Coach Scott DeJong’s seventh title, and he owns a 584-138 career record. This game will be determined by who dictates pace. City High is second in 5A in scoring offense at 68.2 points per game, while Centennial is No. 2 in defense at 38.9 ppg allowed. City’s Ashley Joens is an Iowa State recruit and averages 20.9 points per game; she had 21 first-quarter points and ended with 33 in an 81-30 win over Burlington in the regional semis. Sophomore Kenna Sauer leads the Jaguars at 10.6 ppg.
BC Moore computer projection: City by 8.
TUESDAY’S CLASS 4A REGIONAL FINALS
No. 13 WAVERLY-SHELL ROCK (16-6) at No. 6 CEDAR RAPIDS XAVIER (16-6)
Time: 7 p.m.
Overview: It has been 12 years since Xavier has assembled a longer winning streak than this year’s current run of nine straight. The powerhouse 2005 team won its final 15 games to conclude a 26-1 season. Xavier is seeking its 12th state trip in the last 18 years. The Saints faced a halftime deficit in its regional semifinal against Clear Creek Amana before pulling away to win, 55-33. Senior Lexi Noonan leads the Saints at 14.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per contest, and four others score at least 7 ppg. Waverly-Shell Rock has won the last seven Northeast Iowa Conference titles (it shared with Crestwood this season). The Go-Hawks pounded Decorah, 65-23, Saturday and are led by Payton Draper (10.8 ppg) and Katie Harken (10.5).
BC Moore computer projection: Xavier by 9.
No. 8 NORTH SCOTT (17-5) at No. 7 WESTERN DUBUQUE (21-1)
Time: 7 p.m.
Overview: Western Dubuque has its eyes on a fourth consecutive state appearance; the Bobcats were 4A runners-up in 2014 and 2015. They’re working on a 14-game winning streak behind senior guard Morgan Pitz, who averages 16.2 points and 3.2 assists per contest. All five of North Scott’s losses came against ranked competition, four of which were against 5A opponents. The Lancers have won seven straight games and have held their last four opponents to 27 points or less. Karli Rucker averages 13.3 points and 3.2 assists per game.
BC Moore computer projection: North Scott by 3.
KEOKUK (15-6) at No. 1 MARION (21-1)
Time: 7 p.m.
Overview: Had they played a third-place game at the state tournament last year, these would have been the 4A contestants. Keokuk pulled a minor surprise in the regional semifinals, avenging two regular-season losses to Fairfield in a 48-45 victory. Marion, meanwhile, had no problems with Mount Pleasant in a 54-23 waltz. The Indians have won 10 straight since a Rivalry Saturday loss to Linn-Mar, and rank second in 4A in scoring offense (64.5 ppg) and defense (30.0). None of their top seven scorers are seniors; Saint Louis commit Chloe Rice and freshman Kayla Laube lead the way at 15.7 and 14.5 points per game, respectively. Junior Michaela Davis (12.7 ppg) paces the Chiefs, who have won 10 of their last 11.
BC Moore computer projection: Marion by 18.
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