The most difficult thing for any athletic team to deal with is to be tagged with a No. 1 ranking before its season begins and then run the table to preserve ranking.
That was the position the North Mahaska Warhawks found themselves in this year and the Warhawks met all challenges head on in completing a perfect 28-0 season and claiming the school’s first championship in girls athletics.
“We proved it tonight,” Mallory Boyle said. “We never talked about the ranking, we just wanted to prove it on the floor. Bedford was really tough and well-prepared for us.”
The Warhawks were refined in the fire and came out with the gold. The supreme test came Friday night in the Class 1A championship game against a tenacious Bedford Bulldog club. The Bulldogs dipped into the Warhawk playbook and used pressure defense and fast-break offense against the Warhawks.
When you look at things that turned the tide in the favor of the Warhawks, you have to settle on three-point shooting. The Warhawks were 7-of-14 from behind the arc while the Bulldogs were 1-of-12. Hannah Ferguson was 4-of-5 from three-point land and she made all four of her free throws to lead her team with 16 points. That performance along with some big shots in the other two games landed her a spot on the Class 1A All-Tournament team.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Ferguson said. “It was my last game, so I wanted to make it good. Our team played really well all season.”
Step up Abbie Agan. The super reserve came off the bench and played reserve roulette with the Bulldogs. The score was tied at 26-26 with 3:25 to go in the game when Agan came in and drilled a three-point basket. After Boyle hit one of two free throws, it was Agan again. She rained in her third three of the game for a 33-26 North Mahaska lead with 1:54 to go in the game. The joint was jumpin’.
Savanna Thornton answered with a three for the Bulldogs, their only three of the game, to cut the deficit to 33-29 with 1:43 to go. Boyle got the lead back to six with a drive through the Bedford defense, but the Bulldogs fought back with a breakaway layup by Caila Raymond to set the score at 35-31 with 1:08 left.
The Bulldogs would not score again as the Warhawks took care of the basketball. A free throw by Boyle and four consecutive free throws by Ferguson slammed the door on the Bulldogs and delivered a state title to the Warhawks.
The final horn brought an eruption of joy from the huge Warhawk following that could have been heard all the way back to New Sharon. It was the first girls state title for North Mahaska team or any team from the district prior to the reorganization. The 1953 New Sharon Drivers finished second to Garnavillo that year in the final tourney played in the old Drake Fieldhouse.
North Mahaska coach L.E. Moore was mighty proud of his Warhawks.
“They have worked so hard for so long,” Moore said. “We just kept the pressure on endline to endline and sideline to sideline. That’s what we do. My good friend, the late Dennis Wilson, always told me that you have to dance with the one that brung ya, and man-to-man pressure defense brought us this far. Our man defense was tough on the perimeter and we pretty well shut down their three-point shooters. Inside we did a nice job of limiting post touches.
“It’s been a tiring week and I am so blessed to coach this group. Hannah was on fire and Abbie hit some big shots. You have to believe in yourself to take those shots and they do. Bedford gave us everything they had, but we found a way to win.”
With both defenses raising havoc with the other’s offense, points were very hard to get. The only baskets North Mahaska would get in the first quarter were three-point bombs by Ferguson and Agan as Bedford took an 8-6 lead.
The Warhawks owned a 10-4 edge in the second eight minutes as Ferguson fired in two more threes and Boyle scored twice on the inside. North Mahaska would take a 16-12 into intermission.
The third period was a bump-and-grind affair as well. North Mahaska used a 6-4 run to open up a 22-16 lead with 1:31 remaining in the quarter. But Bedford tied the score at 22-22 heading into the final stanza on a pair of free throws and a bucket by Raymond and a steal and a layup by Kayla Lindenmeyer.
Jenna Lacey and Boyle hit to give the Warhawks a 26-22 lead, but the Bulldogs used buckets by Thornton and Kendyl Gruttemeyer to tie the game again with 4:55 to go. The table was set and Agan, Boyle and Ferguson were ready to serve up a delightful dish for their fans.
Boyle chipped in with 11 points, five rebounds and two steals and she held Bulldog ace Raymond to 10 points which is five under her average. For her play during the week, she was named captain of the all-tournament team.
Tara Smith has been one of the team’s leaders all season, but on this night, the Bulldogs held her scoreless. Instead of scoring she became a force on the boards with a team-high seven rebounds in spite of being badly outsized.
“My shots weren’t falling tonight,” Smith said. “So I concentrated on rebounding and passing the ball. We kept it interesting, but when the threes started falling, I knew it was going to be a big game. Those were huge shots that Hannah and Abbie hit.”
It was the final game as a Warhawk for six North Mahaska seniors and they went out in a blaze of glory. Those seniors are Kate Ray, Hannah Ferguson, Allie Ferguson, Lacey, Hayley Spoelstra and Smith.
North Mahaska 40, Bedford 31
B 8 4 10 9 — 31
NM 6 10 6 18 — 40
NORTH MAHASKA (40) — Kate Ray 1 0-2 2, Hannah Ferguson 4 4-4 16, Jenna Lacey 1 0-2 2, Mallory Boyle 4 3-7 11, Abbie Agan 3 0-0 9. Totals 13 7-11 40.
3-point goals — 7 (H. Ferguson 4, Agan 3). Rebounds — 23 (Ray 3, H. Ferguson 2, Lacey 1, Boyle 5, Tara Smith 7, Agan 2, Allie Ferguson 1). Steals — 5 (Ray 1. Lacey 1, Boyle 2, Smith 1. Assists — 9 (Lacey 4, H. Ferguson 1, Boyle 1, Smith 2, Agan 1). Total fouls — 10.