DES MOINES – Central Decatur and Newell-Fonda both entered Friday's Class 1A state semifinal undefeated, boasting a combined 50-0 record.
But the Mustangs, led by Olivia Larsen, held off a last-ditch effort from Central Decatur to advance 61-49.
Larsen who is Newell-Fonda's leading scorer, rebounder, passer and pass stealer posted another all-around impressive performance with 23 points, six rebounds, two assists and four steals.
"The word relentless comes to mind," said Central Decatur head coach Curtis Boothe about the Mustangs' leader. "She doesn't stop ... Sometimes there was nothing going on and she just dribbles around until she finds something to exploit."
The Cardinals held their own with the Mustangs after a 10-9 first quarter, but Newell-Fonda pushed out to a nine-point lead after two 3-pointers from Ella Larsen and Camryn Wilken followed by an Olivia Larsen and-one midway through the second quarter.
The Mustangs continuously got out in passing lanes, forcing 13 steals, which the Mustangs used to turn in a 13-point halftime lead, 35-22.
Newell-Fonda hit four of its six total triples in the first half.
Newell-Fonda threw an aggressive man-to-man defense in the half court at Central Decatur with an active 1-2-2 full court zone press.
Newell-Fonda's anticipatory defense wore on Central Decatur as a Cardinals team used to getting easy buckets in transition only managed two fastbreak points over the course of the contest.
"They just took it to us in the second quarter and I thought we lost our composure a bit on their press and turned it over a few too many times," said Boothe.
Third quarter surge
Central Decatur quickly garnered new life, opening the third quarter with two corner 3-pointers after failing to hit one in the first half.
Alliey Boswell and Alli Masters sunk the triples and Masters added two more points on the Cardinals' next possession with a floater. The eight points brought the Cardinals within seven and two CD free throws cut the deficit to five, 37-32 with 4:54 left in the third quarter, forcing Newell-Fonda to call time.
Boswell fouled out in the game's final 90 seconds and finished the contest with six points. Maizee Lindsey also added six points for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals managed to get the margin to three points out of the break in the action, but the Mustangs' Olivia Larsen countered with a layup, following a tricky pass fake. A few possessions later Wilken drilled her second triple, pushing Newell-Fonda's lead back to nine.
"We were just hoping to cut their lead in the half by the end of the third quarter. It was just a matter of they hit some big threes on us, some good execution and some good ball movement," said Boothe.
The Mustangs used their relentless pressure to keep the margin around nine through the rest of the fourth quarter despite the Cardinals' effort.
Central Decatur managed just two points on one basket down the stretch of the fourth quarter and that nine-point lead stretched to 11 with 1:37, 57-46.
Emma Atwood shouldered a majority of the workload in the fourth, scoring seven of the Cardinals' nine points in the final period. Atwood finished the state semifinal with a team-high 18 points.
The other half of Central Decatur's one-two punch, Masters, ended her junior year with a 15-point performance.
Both teams dealt with the jitter bug early and often as 14 combined first-quarter turnovers turnovers turned into 41 total. The Mustangs led the points off turnover margin 22-19.
"We knew coming in that we had to handle," said Atwood. "We handled it well at times, but some other times we didn't make our passes clean and use ball fakes like we should have."
The Cardinals had a few chances to get out and hit buckets in transition, but failed to convert a handful of looks around the basket. Those misses often presented second-chance opportunities as CD grabbed 15 offensive rebounds.
"We had how many missed layups that we just didn't quite finish?" Questioned Boothe, "that was just the intensity of getting the ball 94 feet, finally getting a shot and we didn't finish."
Central Decatur's season comes to an end at 25-1 after the program's first ever trip to the state semifinals.
The Cardinals lose seniors Kennedy Buckingham and Chania Vos, but will return everyone else, leaving them with state title ambitions for 2018-19.
"Their character they gave us," said Masters. "Her and Shania were both that way and that's why we're going to miss them."
"(Buckingham) She's more about spirit and character than any player I've probably ever coached," said Boothe.
As far as what the head coach thinks the Cardinals need next year to cap off a state title run with a first-place trophy?
"We know that the people that get to come back next year are going to have to work a lot harder to keep winning at state," said Atwood.