MEDIAPOLIS — It was a hostile, loud environment, and the Van Buren County High School girls basketball team’s shots weren’t falling with any consistency.
The defense, however, was nothing but suffocating.
The ninth-ranked Warriors jumped out to a double-digit lead in the opening quarter, then shortened the game in the second half by slowing the game down in a 43-23 win over No. 7 Mediapolis in Friday’s Class 2A regional semifinal on Vernon “Bud” McLearn Court.
Van Buren County (21-3) will get another crack at a trip to the state tournament when it faces No. 6 West Branch (20-3) in Wednesday’s regional final at Washington High School. The Bears beat Wapello 64-24 in the other regional semifinal.
“Our defense was really good tonight,” said guard Isabel Manning, who had the hot hand early in the game. “That was really a focus for us. We haven’t beaten Mediapolis on their floor in volleyball or basketball, so this was a nice win.”
Taryn Scheuermann scored 22 points — 18 in the second half. But it was the Warriors’ defense that dictated the game from the tip, holding Mediapolis’ Ruthie Jahn and Helaina Hillyard to a combined seven points on 2 of 19 shooting.
Van Buren County’s zone contested almost every shot, and the Warriors didn’t cede a lot of area in the paint for the Bullettes (21-2) to get a good look driving to the basket.
Hillyard picked up three fouls in the first half, and didn’t score her first points until 2 1/2 minutes into the second half. Mediapolis entered play with three players averaging double figures in scoring, and none of them reached it.
“Helaina is so athletic. I’ve played with and against her for years and we all know each other,” said point guard Madison Bartholomew, who had the assignment of guarding the Bullettes’ leading scorer. “She’s just so good at everything she does.”
The Warriors used a fast start in front of an overflowing crowd to set the tone. Scheuermann’s jumper late in the opening quarter gave Van Buren County a 14-4 lead, then Bartholomew buried a 3-pointer with less than a minute left in the half for a 21-8 lead at the break. The Bullettes scored just two points in the second quarter.
“These kids are super-focused right now. They’re such competitors,” Warriors coach Matt Zeitler said. “I teach defense. Maddi doesn’t score a lot, but she hangs her hat on defense. We tried a lot of defenses, and were were able to get deflections.
“The kids were everywhere.”
With a 16-point lead in the second half, the Warriors slowed the pace and worked for shots. However, Scheuermann got free on five consecutive baskets in the fourth quarter as the Warriors led by as many as 22.
In fact, Scheuermann scored 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Warriors pulled away, with many of those baskets on the same play.
“It was a rocky first and second quarter for me, but I just had to calm down,” Scheuermann said. “We played as one tonight, and if we do that, we can go far.”
Both teams entered play in the upper 50s in scoring average per game, but both teams’ offenses ground to a halt at times. Van Buren County’s defense, however, was the constant in the contest.
“We practice slowing the game down, because we don’t have as many turnovers that way,” Manning said. “We like to play fast, but we’ve tried to slow it down at times.”
West Branch has good size and could give the Warriors problems, but with another sturdy defensive performance, Van Buren County could make history.
“Two minutes after this game, the kids were already focused on West Branch,” Zeitler said. “We just have to keep winning.”