By Jason Brummond
TIPTON — Mariah Duke jumped up and down to celebrate at midcourt, wearing a wide smile on her face as she tightly gripped the banner signifying Cedar Rapid Kennedy’s pass to Des Moines.
Who else could it have been?
Duke’s fourth-quarter heroics and game-clinching free throws in overtime capped the Cougars’ improbable comeback in a 56-53 win over Iowa City High last night in a 4A girls’ basketball regional final.
“They never gave up,” Kennedy Coach Dennis Roloff said. “They knew they could do it.”
Kennedy trailed 51-44 with 44.6 seconds remaining in regulation when Duke took over. The junior guard banked in a 3-pointer and after a City High free throw hit another to pull the Cougars to within two points. One City High free throw later and with time winding down, Kennedy needed another trey just to tie.
The ball went back to Duke and she launched an incredible 24-foot shot with 3.9 seconds left that went in to force overtime.
“I shot it up there and it felt good,” said Duke, who scored a team-high 23 points — 11 in the final 40 seconds of regulation and overtime. “We had our confidence the whole time and never gave up.”
In overtime, City High sat back in a 2-3 zone with foul trouble, and Kennedy melted away the first 3:15 standing unchallenged at midcourt. Kennedy’s Mackenzie Welsh hit a free throw after a fouled shot attempt and Duke hit two more in the closing seconds as City High turned the ball over on their three possessions of the extra period.
Forward Jade Rogers added 19 points for Kennedy, which earned a state tournament berth for the first time since 2004 despite losing four-straight games to end the regular season.
The Cougars will face Waukee, which beat Des Moines East 49-45 last night, next Wednesday.
Ultimately, foul trouble and free throw shooting helped do in the Little Hawks, the defending state champion.
Virginia Johnson (24 points) and Brooke Quiqley (12) — the team’s top two scorers last night — picked up fourth fouls in the third quarter.
City High converted just 5 of 12 free throws in the final 1:12 of regulation.
The Little Hawks had three chances to take the lead or tie the game in overtime and couldn’t even get off a shot before turning the ball over.
“We missed some free throws and didn’t execute at the end,” City High Coach Bill McTaggart said. “We get one more rebound and one more free throw and the game is over.”