Prep Basketball

Reserve sharpshooter helps send Johnston past Iowa City High in girls' state basketball semifinals

Class 5A semifinal loss is end of the line for Little Hawks' memorable senior trio

DES MOINES — Iowa City High had an opportunity. A big opportunity.

A five-point lead. A lot of momentum. And one of Johnston’s players on the bench with foul trouble.

Then came the dagger. Three of them, actually. They came from somebody nobody expected.

Freshman Molly Noelck drilled three 3-pointers in succession to swing the game Johnston’s way, and the fourth-ranked Dragons toppled No. 2 City High, 71-61, in a Class 5A semifinal at the girls’ state basketball tournament Thursday morning.

“We missed an opportunity to capitalize when we should have,” City’s Rose Nkumu. “If we could go back, we would probably do some things differently.”

Bolstered by Noelck’s spree, Johnston led 33-31 at halftime, then broke it open with a 13-3 run to open the second half. The Dragons (23-2) will face No. 1 Waukee (23-2) for the championship at 6 p.m. Friday.

“We had a lot of girls step up when I was in foul trouble,” Johnston’s Kendall Nead said. “This was such a great team win. I’m so freaking excited.”

It was another bitter pill for the Little Hawks, who finished 23-2. It marked the end of the road for seniors Nkumu, Aubrey Joens and Paige Rocca, who will be at Marquette, Iowa State and Missouri State next year.

“They were my best friends. I loved playing with them,” said a teary-eyed Joens, who contributed 24 points and 16 rebounds. “This gave me so many memories, but we didn’t get done what we wanted.”

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Rocca said, “We didn’t get a ring, but I wouldn’t trade these girls for anybody.”

City led 21-16 early in the second quarter when Nead went to the bench with three fouls. In came Noelck, and — bang, bang, bang — the whole thing shifted.

“Once you get to the state semifinals, you’ve got to have players step up,” Johnston Coach Chad Jilek said. “We put Molly into the game to shoot the ball, and she stepped up.”

Rocca said, “There was a lot of miscommunication out there. Some of us didn’t know who we were guarding.”

Nead was back in to start the second half, and the Dragons’ lead went from 33-31 to 46-34 in the span of three minutes.

“We wanted to drive (the lane) to win,” Nead said. “Every single possession.”

The Little Hawks climbed within 52-49 on Ella Cook’s basket with 6:37 left, then Nkumu’s bucket made it 62-59 at the 2:05 mark before Johnston wrapped it up at the free-throw line.

Nead paced the Dragons with 16 points. Anna Gossling, Maya McDermott and Maddie Mock added 15, 14 and 11, respectively.

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Joens led an City attack the produced four double-figure scorers. Rocca tallied 13, Nkumu 11 and Cook 10.

“I love those kids dearly,” City Coach Bill McTaggart said. “We just didn’t shoot the ball well enough today.”

City was 22 of 59 from the floor (37.3 percent).

JOHNSTON 71, IOWA CITY HIGH 61

5A State Semifinal, at Des Moines

JOHNSTON (71): Maya McDermott 5-11 4-5 14, Kinsey Jilek 0-3 2-2 2, Anna Gossling 6-10 1-1 15, Kendall Nead 5-10 6-8 16, Maddie Mock 3-6 5-7 11, Zoey Buchan 0-1 4-4 4, Molly Noelck 3-7 0-0 9, Allie Hart 0-0 0-0 0, Emma Hampton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-48 22-27 71.

IOWA CITY HIGH (61): Rose Nkumu 3-9 4-4 11, Kelsey Joens 1-6 0-0 3, Alla Cook 4-10 0-0 10, Paige Rocca 5-7 0-0 13, Aubrey Joens 9-24 4-5 24, Eviyon Richardson 0-3 0-0 0, Andie Westlake 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-59 8-9 61.

Halftime: Johnston 33, City 31. 3-point goals: Johnston 5-12 (McDermott 0-3, Jilek 0-1, Gossling 2-4, Noelck 3-4), City 9-24 (Nkumu 1-4, K. Joens 1-3, Cook 2-6, Rocca 3-4, A. Joens 2-6, Richardson 0-1). Team fouls: Johnston 11, City 23. Fouled out: Mock, K. Joens. Rebounds: Johnston 34 (Mock 10), City 33 (A. Joens 16). Assists: Johnston 12 (McDermott 6), City 11 (Nkumu 5). Steals: Johnston 5 (Noelck 2), City 5 (Nkumu, Rocca 2). Turnovers: Johnston 9, City 8.

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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