DES MOINES — Hangover? Letdown? Tom Lilly isn’t too worried.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “At this point, there’s too much at stake.”
Cedar Rapids Xavier takes aim at the Class 4A girls state basketball championship Saturday. The fifth-ranked Saints (16-9) face No. 8 Harlan (23-2) for the crown at 6 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.
These teams have gobbled up the top seeds. Xavier took down No. 1 Sioux City Heelan in the semifinals while Harlan knocked off No. 3 Benton Community and No. 2 Waverly-Shell Rock in succession.
“I’m sure Harlan looks at itself as a team of destiny,” Lilly said. “But so do we.”
Despite the record and the ranking, it would be silly to think of Xavier as Cinderella. The Saints cut their teeth against the 5A-heavy Mississippi Valley Conference. And they’ve traveled this road before.
In 2007, Xavier came to Wells Fargo with nine losses and won the 3A championship.
That was their most recent title — they also reigned in 2003 and 2005.
Lilly is a superstitous fellow, and he’s taking the same routine he did during those championship years. The Saints are driving back and forth instead of dwelling in a Des Moines hotel.
“We did that (in 2002), when I was young and dumb and foolish,” Lilly said.
That year, Xavier was beaten by Perry in the 3A final.
“There’s nothing better than home cooking, staying in a routine and sleeping in your own bed. You can go to school, and everybody can pat you on the back and wish you good luck.”
In the semifinal win, soccer standout Kayla Armstrong played the game of her life, posting 22 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals.
“Everybody has their night, and that happened to be mine,” she said. “Now we have to dial back in and try to win one more.
“We have to be ready, because Harlan is good. If we execute and penetrate and use our posts, I think we’ll be looking good.”
Both teams are deep and balanced. Neither team has a player averaging in double figures, but both have multiple weapons.
Six Cyclones average 6 points or more, led by sophomore reserve post Jess Schaben (9.9 ppg). Ashley Stulken leads the Saints at 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
“They like to play up-tempo, and they have kids that can shoot the ball,” Lilly said.
“When you get to state, you can kind of tell which teams are just happy to be here and which teams have more on their minds, and I think both teams fit into that second category.
“We’ve played well this week, and I hope we still have our best basketball ahead of us.”
CLASS 4A CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 5 Cedar Rapids Xavier (16-9) vs. No. 8 Harlan (23-2)
Time: 6 p.m.
Coaches: Tom Lilly is 467-197 in 28 years, including 279-95 in 15 years at Xavier. Zach Klaassen is in his first year at Harlan, and is 23-2.
Key players: Xavier’s Kayla Armstrong (5-7, sr., 6.9 ppg) had the game of her life in the Saints’ semifinal win, scoring 22 points. Ashley Stulken (6-2, sr.) leads the Saints at 9.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Harlan is similarly balanced: Jess Schaben (6-1, soph.) leads the way at 9.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Jodie Esser (5-11, sr.) adds 7.9 ppg.
How they got here: Xavier defeated No. 7 Lewis Central, 50-45, in the quarterfinals, then took down No. 1 Sioux City Heelan, 68-57, in the semifinals. Harlan advanced with wins over No. 3 Benton Community, 52-42, and No. 2 Waverly-Shell Rock, 41-36.
BC Moore computer projection: Xavier by 3.
Class 5A Championship
Southeast Polk (19-5) vs. West Des Moines Dowling (21-4), 8 p.m.