Brook Loewe’s steady ball handling and free throw shooting helped send Ballard to another state championship game.
Ballard, last year’s Class 4A champion, will try for the 3A title this time after upending West Lyon 56-51 in a semifinal that featured clutch free throw shooting on both sides. The third-seeded Bombers will take a 23-3 record against fourth-seeded Estherville-Lincoln Central at 8 p.m. Friday.
It’s the fourth time in the state finals for Ballard, which also won a title in 2009 and finished second in 2006. Estherville-Lincoln Central is in the championship game for the fifth time and is going after its second title.
Loewe scored 25 points and frustrated defenders chasing her as she dribbled away time to fend off a West Lyon comeback. When the Wildcats had to foul, she converted, making 8-of-10 free throws in the final 3:21 and finishing the game 15-for-18.
Kylie Rigby added 12 points for the Ballard on 4-for-5 3-point shooting and Lily Beall scored nine. West Lyon outrebounded the Bombers 26-13, but Ballard turned it over only four times and made 19 of its 24 free throws.
West Lyon star Brooklyn Meyer was even better at the line, making 16 of 17 free throws and finishing with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Ballard had trouble matching up with 6-foot-2 senior, who has signed with South Dakota, and she scored 11 of the Wildcats’ final 13 points. But with Ballard in the lead and controlling the ball, it wasn’t quite enough.
Gianna Klarenbeek went 4-for-5 from 3-point range and added 14 points for second-seeded West Lyon (24-2), which lost to Unity Christian in last year’s championship game. The Wildcats’ only other loss this season was to Harrisburg, S.D.
The game came down to a tense final few minutes even though Ballard led most of the way. The Bombers jumped to a 24-11 lead and were up 24-17 at halftime. Klarenbeek knocked three 3s in the third quarter to bring the Wildcats back and they pulled ahead by a point, the second time at 37-36 when Klarenbeek drove for a bucket at the start of the fourth quarter.
Rigby answered with a 3 from the left corner and buried another 3 from the right of the key for a 42-38 lead. The Bombers then put the ball in Loewe’s hands and she delivered.
She stopped in the lane and popped in a short jumper, then stole the ball and made two free throws for a 46-40 lead with 3:21 left. From then on it was a matter of dribbling away time and making more free throws and there was not better at that than Loewe.