Upset bid falls short for Titans

DES MOINES – While the heart and effort were clearly there, a state tournament victory just wasn’t in the cards for the South Central Calhoun girls basketball team here Monday night.

Making their first trip to Des Moines as a joined program, the 12th-ranked Titans (21-4 overall) suffered a 57-49 setback to No. 5 North Linn (24-1) in a Class 2A quarterfinal at Wells Fargo Arena.

Trailing by as many as 11 points early in the second quarter, the Titans clawed their way back behind a pivotal 12-3 run to end the half. All knotted entering the last eight minutes, SCC was outscored down the stretch, 20-12.

“We just couldn’t quite get over the hump, but credit (the Lynx) for that,” South Central Calhoun head coach Dave Birks said. “I was proud of how our kids fought. We were a little nervous at the beginning when we got down by eight, but then we started to settle down in the second quarter. Unfortunately, we were never able to get the lead and the ball late in the game.”

Senior Ashley Henkenius delivered a career-high 17 points for the Titans, including 14 in the second half. Henkenius went 5-for-9 from outside the arc, including consecutive triples that pushed SCC in front by a single hoop midway through the third.

“My teammates did a great job of finding me open off dribble penetration,” said Henkenius, who came in averaging 5.0 points per game. “I just didn’t want our season to end. I was a little nervous when I first walked into the gym, but once the game started, it felt like just another game.”

All-state junior guard Haley Birks – Dave’s daughter – chipped in 15 points, six rebounds, two steals, two assists and a block for the Titans, who saw their six-game winning streak snapped.

“We practiced at Buena Vista University on Tuesday, which helped us get used to the longer floor,” Haley Birks said. “I thought we played our hearts out (Monday), which is all you can ask for.”

For Tri-Rivers West Division co-conference champion North Linn, all-stater Nicole Miller netted 25 points on 10-for-20 shooting to go along with seven boards, five steals and three assists. Miller entered the quarterfinals ranked No. 1 in 2A and fourth in the state in scoring at 25.6 points per contest. Two of Miller’s buckets came on back-to-back possessions in crunch time to extend the Lynx lead to seven.

“I guess we did a pretty good job on (Miller) to hold her under her average,” said Dave Birks. “We had to press at the end defensively, which we’re not used to doing, and they hurt us with a couple of easy (layups).”

South Central Calhoun fired at a 35.4 percent (17 of 48) clip from the field compared to 44 percent (22-for-50) for the Lynx, who also received 11 points and six rebounds from Libby Falconer.

Henkenius, Maria Dischler and Kellsie Knapp all closed out their Titan careers on the hardwood. Birks previously directed Rockwell City-Lytton to state three times, including a 1A title in 2004 and a runner-up showing in 2003. This was the fourth season of consolidation for South Central Calhoun.

North Linn, whose only loss this year came back on Feb. 4 at league rival and then-No. 15 (2A) Maquoketa Valley, is making its second-ever state appearance – 1997 was the only other.

Either No. 1 and two-time defending champion Western Christian (24-1) or Des Moines Christian (20-4) now awaits the Lynx in a 2A state semifinal Thursday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.