Jennings leads fierce comeback in Game Time

BY CHARLIE GREEN | JULY 09, 2015 5:00 AM

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Head coach Randy Larson approached his point guard, Luther’s Moran Lonning, and embraced her at the conclusion of Wednesday night’s Game Time League finale. He held the game’s box score in his right hand.

“27, 7, and 7,” he told her. “Nobody does that. Nobody scores 27 points and has 7 assists.”

The moment capped off the game of the summer — one that matched the hype that had built up — one in which Larson’s Marion Iron rallied to defeat coach Kay DiLeo’ Beat the Bookstore/Westport, 103-100, to seal an undefeated season and the top seed in the playoffs.

But DiLeo’s team led most of the game.

Early on, her players set the pace, beating Larson’s group at his own up-tempo game and out muscling it in the paint.

“I think at halftime, the girls accepted that the offensive side had to be secondary to defense,” Larson said. “And I thought they committed to the defense.”

For his team, the offense persisted, but DiLeo’s squad managed to keep a comfortable, often double-digit advantage.

At the end of the third quarter, her team owned an 81-72 lead.

And just like that, it was gone.

“We just said in the huddle, ‘Let’s go, this is the last quarter, we know we can do it,’ ” Iowa forward Claire Till said. “We didn’t think we had played our best until that point; we just let it all out there, and it was in our favor tonight.”

Led by Whitney Jennings, Larson’s group exploded in the opening minutes of the fourth, starting the quarter off on a crippling 19-0 run.

Jennings scored 43 points, shooting a red-hot 7-of-11 from beyond the arc. Her quickness, as it has been all summer, proved too much for DiLeo’s squad down the stretch.

Jennings also sank two free throws in the twilight of the game to increase her team’s lead to 103-98. After a quick lay-up from Tania Davis brought DiLeo back within 3, Jennings used her speed to avoid being foul and ran out the clock.

Hawkeye Till poured in 16 points to supplement Jennings’ performance, and Lonning’s persistence never faded.

DiLeo’s group controlled most of the game and matched up physically as well as any team in Game Time 2015 will.

Davis scored 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field and had 8 assists, beating defenders off the dribble and relentlessly attacking all night. Megan Gustafson’s physical presence in the paint gave opponents fits, and she finished with 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting and 13 boards. Winger Kate Letkewicz finished with 22 points and 7 rebounds.

“We learned a little something,” Larson said. “We learned that [Deja] Jackson and Letkewicz have to be guarded on the 3; you can’t just let them shoot. We learned that Gustafson, when you let her turn to her left, is unstoppable.”

The physical, aggressive, and intense nature of the game took its toll on the younger Gustafson and Davis, who have yet to play at the college level. Each looked exhausted by game’s end, while Jennings, Lonning, and Till kept pounding away like it was the first half.

“Someone told me today that Claire couldn’t guard Gustafson; I said, ‘Maybe not, but she’ll die trying,’ ” Larson said. “And I thought that’s what Claire did; she just battled and battled and battled.”

In other league action, Vinton Merchants/Culver’s moved to 2-2 by defeating Comfort Care/ Pelling, 80-69. With the loss Comfort Care fell to 0-4.

Both Larson’s and DiLeo’s squads had first-round playoff buys sealed entering Wednesday’s meeting. With the win, Larson’s finishes the regular season at the top of the standings.

“I think our defense sparked our offense, and we just never let up from there,” Lonning said.

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