CEDAR RAPIDS — Andy Courtney knows his team pulled an escape of sorts Wednesday night.
His Cedar Rapids Kennedy girls’ basketball team was a prohibitive favorite in its Class 5A Region 7 quarterfinal matchup with Iowa City Liberty at Kennedy.
The Cougars looked the part in the first two quarters, then saw Liberty mount a furious charge to tie the game after three quarters.
“We played them a couple of weeks ago and they shot the ball very well,” said Courtney of the Lightning’s effort in a 51-38 Kennedy win on Jan. 21. “We knew we had to get out after them with high hands on defense and we finally did it consistently in the fourth quarter.”
The final eight minutes belonged to Kennedy as the Cougars outscored the visitors, 19-8, en route to a 47-37 victory.
With the victory, Kennedy (14-8) advances to a regional semifinal matchup at 7 p.m. Saturday on the road against West Des Moines Valley (9-6)
Coach Jaime Brandt’s Lightning finish 4-12.
Kennedy appeared to have control of the game despite its struggles on offense. Liberty was only able to make five field goals in the first half, but all were of the 3-point variety as the Cougars led at the break.
The Lightning offense, sparked by Keiko Ono-Fullard, came to life in the third quarter. A 3-point basket from Ava Meyer just before the buzzer left the game tied at 28-28 and had Liberty smelling an upset.
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However, Kennedy recovered in the fourth quarter, sparked by a defense that was designed to chase the Lightning shooters off the 3-point line. Ella Cadenhead scored to open the period and the Lightning were never able to get closer than four the rest of the way.
“That’s what we have been counting on since early January, our defense leading us,” Courtney said. “I think on offense we forced some things a little bit. Again, Our defense leads us and if our defense is strong, we have a good chance of being in a game.”
Sophomore Kaliyah Sain led Kennedy with 12 points. Cadenhead chipped in 11 off the bench. Ono-Fullard was the lone Liberty player in double figures, finishing with 11.
“We’re happy to be moving on,” Courtney said. “I told the girls we’re going to flush this. We have two days of practice to get ready for Valley.”