Iowa City, IA- Iowa City West High School was the host for an epic Class 1A Region 8 Regional Championship between Winfield-Mt. Union and North Mahaska. The head coach for the Wolves, Mendy McCreight, was looking to lead the team back to the state tournament for the first time since her playing days at Winfield-Mt. Union in 1998. The Warhawks had made it to the dance last year but lost to Newell-Fonda in the opening round 77-44.
It was experience versus unfamiliarity, as the Wolves touted 5 senior starters and the Warhawks had 5 sophomores start the game. That experience seemed to aid the Wolves as they started the game on an 11 to 3 run, which saw Keetyn Townsley and Keely Malone nail a three-pointer and Melina Oepping dominate the offensive boards and the play on the block. However, Oepping would pick up her 3rd personal foul in the first quarter forcing her to sit out the rest of the half and North Mahaska would make their move. Led by Regan Grewe’s 6 points in the first half, the Warhawks went on a 19 to 4 run to close out the first half with a 22-17 lead. Coach McCreight admitted after the game that there were nerves entering the game,
“We were nervous, I’m not going to lie, including myself. We came out in the first half and you could tell we were nervous.”
A halftime speech was as the Wolves needed to get back on track as Oepping continued her dominant ways connecting on two quick three-point plays, unable to make the free throw attached to the play, to get Winfield-Mt. Union back in the game. However, North Mahaska’s star player Breckyn Schilling, who ranked 8th in points for Class 1A entering the game, would keep them in the game as she scored 14 of her 16 points in the 2nd half. Despite her effort, the Wolves would take a 39-37 lead into the 4th quarter, but the game was far from over.
The 4th quarter remained low scoring as it took several minutes for either team to score, but it remained the ping-pong game it was in the 3rd quarter. It is impossible to script a basketball game, but you can always guarantee that in a close game free throws will be a factor. Bradie Buffington, Oepping, and Josie Nelson would all take a trip to the line for the Wolves in the 2nd half, the highest percentage for any of those player was Buffington at 69 percent, Nelson cam into the game shooting just 28 percent from the line, and Oepping shot at a 61 percent clip. North Mahaska would have Schilling go to the line for the Warhawks and at an 81% clip on the season it seemed destined for the Warhawks to make their free throws and move on. Winfield-Mt. Union came prepared with a community ready to disrupt North Mahaska’s concentration and they did just that as Schilling went 1 of 4 from the charity stripe. Winfield-Mt. Union would go 11 of 14 from the free throw line including Oepping making her last 8 in a row and Nelson going 2 for 2 at the line. The crowd was the 6th woman on the court for the Wolves.
“[The crowd] It’s so important, they [her players] don’t realize how much the crowd really gets us in it, keeps us motivated” said Coach McCreight. “It’s just so rewarding, it’s just awesome!”
Keely Malone would get a clutch steal and breakaway lay-up to wrap up the game for Winfield-Mt. Union as they took the ticket to Des Moines on a 52-47 final, as they outscored North Mahaska 35 to 25 in the 2nd half. Melina Oepping led the team with 24 points in the game and dominated the boards. Keetyn Townsley finished with 11 points, followed by Malone with 8 points, Bradie Buffington netted 7 points, and Josie Nelson’s 2 free throws would give the Wolves 52. Coach McCreight was grinning from ear-to-ear after the game knowing her team was set to go the state tournament,
“I’m so excited, couldn’t be more proud for the girls. It’s so rewarding as a coach to go back up there after being a part of the team in ’98, I can’t be happier.”
Winfield-Mt. Union will be the 6th seed in the tournament and taking on North Linn on March 1st at 6:45 pm. They will be having a community pep rally on February 28th at 5 pm at the big gym and there will be an early dismissal on March 1st at 1 pm along with a two-hour late start for school on March 2nd. KILJ will be covering their run through the tournament on 105.5 FM or kilj.com.