Johnston is back in the Class 5A state championship game with a chance at a rare achievement.
The top-seeded Dragons, reaching the title game the third straight year, were sharp in all areas in beating fourth-seeded Pleasant Valley 64-44 to start the 2022 semifinal round. They moved the ball with crisp passes, created turnovers and made their shots.
Now 25-0, Johnston will go for its second state championship in three years at 6 p.m. Friday – with a chance to become the first large school to go unbeaten since Des Moines East went 26-0 en route to the 2011 Class 4A title. The state tournament went to five classes in 2013.
Johnston shot 48 percent and had assists on 17 of its 23 baskets, leading to layups and open 3-point shots. The Dragons, who lost to Waukee in last year’s championship game, piled up 32 points in the paint and knocked down seven 3s. They also forced 21 turnovers, which led to 25 points.
University of Iowa recruit Jada Gyamfi led a balanced offense with 13 points and eight rebounds. Aaliyah Riley, a promising sophomore, delivered a solid all-around game with 12 points, four rebounds, eight assists and three steals. The Dragons often ran their zone offense through Riley by posting her at the free throw line, where she could look inside or pass to her shooters on the wing.
Zoey Buchan added 11 points for the Dragons, reserve Molly Noelck scored eight and Anna Gossling contributed six points on two 3-pointers and three steals.
Pleasant Valley (22-3) fell into an early hole by missing its first seven shots, including four on one possession. The Spartans rallied with a 7-0 run to take an 8-7 lead, but Johnston closed the quarter with 11 straight points, then got five quick points from Riley at the start of the second quarter to open a 23-8 lead.
The Dragons were never challenged again and led by as many as 30 in the late going.
Sophomore Jessie Clemons and freshman Quinn Vice led Pleasant Valley with nine points each. Addie Kerkhoff added eight points and Halle Vice scored six to go with eight rebounds. Vice, a 6-foot-1 junior, finished the season with a school record 498 points.
It still was a memorable season for the Spartans, who made the state tournament for the first time since 2010 and beat Iowa City West in the quarterfinals for the school’s first state tourney win.