DES MOINES — The outcome still undecided with six seconds left, Tom Lilly had the following message to his team in the final timeout:
“Isn’t this fun? Isn’t this awesome?”
Kayla Armstrong scored on a twisting, running shot with eight seconds left, then got a fingertip on the ball when Taylor Wagner made a frantic drive upcourt to clinch fifth-ranked Cedar Rapids Xavier’s 53-52 victory over No. 8 Harlan in a memorable Class 4A championship game at the girls’ state basketball tournament Saturday night at Wells Fargo Arena.
“There are no words (that did this game justice),” said Xavier’s Ashley Stulken. “Harlan was very good. We had the poise at the end, and Kayla made a play.”
Xavier (17-9) won its fourth championship. The Saints reached the 3A mountaintop in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
A celebration is scheduled for 7:45 Monday morning at Ron Thillen Gymnasium.
The all-tournament captain, Armstrong played the best game of her career in a semifinal win over Sioux City Heelan. Less than 48 hours later, she matched it.
Armstrong scored 23 points on 10 of 12 shooting from the floor.
“The heart of this team was incredible,” Armstrong said. “The points were nice, but it’s a lot of other things by everyone that pulled us through.”
Armstrong grabbed six steals, plus the deflection that allowed Sarah Dickes to pick up the ball at midcourt on the final play of the game.
Dickes dribbled out the clock and heaved the ball toward the ceiling as the buzzer sounded.
“Oh gosh, so many emotions were going through my head,” Dickes said. “We’ve worked so hard. To know we finally had this in the bag, it was so special.”
The whole game was special.
Xavier scored the first seven points and led 16-8 after the first quarter. Harlan (23-3) answered behind its young, formidable front line and held a 28-27 edge at halftime.
The fun was just beginning.
A gut-twisting second half featured nine lead changes, and neither team led by more than four points.
“It was intense,” said Harlan’s Liz Riessen. “I can’t describe this game. Both teams played so hard. It was so much fun. We struggled with our shooting at times, but that’s basketball.”
Harlan missed four straight free throws in the final minute. The Cyclones led 50-49 when Wagner missed two with 49 seconds left, then fouled Morgan Breitbach while pursuing the rebound.
A 44-percent free throw shooter, Breitbach made both of her tries for a 51-50 Xavier lead.
Harlan’s Taylor Frederick missed two foul shots with 28 seconds left, but Stulken did the same a moment later.
Wagner scored on a drive with 17 seconds remaining, then Armstrong had the ball — and an opening – on the left wing.
“There wasn’t much time, and I thought, ‘I need to go for it,’ ” she said. “I saw a gap, and I drove to the hoop.”
Harlan called timeout with 6.1 seconds left, but didn’t get a shot at the basket.
Armstrong got the deflection, Dickes got the ball and the Saints were champions.
With his fourth championship, Lilly moves into sole possession of third place all-time in Iowa. Scott DeJong of Ankeny has won six titles, Bob and Sharon Hanson have won five (one with Des Moines East, four with West Des Moines Dowling).
Xavier prevailed despite 1 of 12 shooting from 3-point range and a 45-29 rebounding disadvantage.
Stulken added 13 points, nine rebounds and six blocks.
Wagner paced Harlan with 16 points. Jess Schaben posted 13 points and 19 rebounds, along with four blocks.
Schaben and Wagner are sophomores, and with other underclassmen in the fold, the Cyclones are going to be a load in the future.
But the future is the future. And the present belongs to the Xavier Saints.
CEDAR RAPIDS XAVIER 53, HARLAN 52
At Des Moines
HARLAN (52): Liz Riessen 0-3 0-0 0, Hannah Havick 0-1 0-0 0, Taylor Wagner 6-11 2-5 16, Elle Kloewer 2-3 0-0 4, Josie Esser 2-4 0-0 4, Jess Schaben 5-12 3-5 13, Taylor Leinen 0-3 0-0 0, Jordyn Moser 1-7 3-4 5, Kenzie Swanson 0-1 0-0 0, Taylor Frederick 4-7 2-5 10. Totals 20-52 10-19 52.
C.R. XAVIER (53): Kayla Armstrong 10-12 3-6 23, Hayley Deutmeyer 2-7 1-2 6, Sarah Dickes 0-7 0-0 0, Maddie Bertsch 1-5 1-2 3, Ashley Stulken 6-15 1-5 13, Morgan Breitbach 1-1 2-2 4, Jenny Dickes 0-1 0-0 0, Abby Watson 0-1 0-0 0, McKenna Andersen 2-5 0-0 4. Totals 22-54 8-17 53.
Halftime: Harlan 28, Xavier 27. 3-point goals: Harlan 2-9 (Riessen 0-3, Havick 0-1, Wagner 2-3, Leinen 0-2), Xavier 1-12 (Deutmeyer 1-4, S.Dickes 0-5, Andersen 0-3). Team fouls: Harlan 14, Xavier 19. Fouled out: none. Rebounds: Harlan 45 (Schaben 19), Xavier 29 (Stulken 9). Assists: Harlan 12 (Wagner 4), Xavier 11 (S.Dickes 4). Steals: Harlan 4 (Wagner 2), Xavier 13 (Armstrong 6). Turnovers: Harlan 18, Xavier 8.