Kastanek & Company stun Marion

BY CHARLIE GREEN | JULY 23, 2015 5:00 AM

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The last time the two teams met, coach Brian Joens Cullen/Joensy’s fell hard — losing to Randy Larson’s Marion Iron, 144-75.

A different team showed up for Wednesday night’s Game Time semifinal rematch, one that set the tone early and never looked back. The final this time: 103-87, in favor of Joens.

“I really can’t explain it,” he said. “The kids just played smart; they’ve really come together as a group.”

After extending its lead to double digits in the second quarter, Joens’ team hung onto control to the end. By halftime, it had extended the lead to 55-36 and kept a similar cushion throughout the remainder of the game.

Larson’s squad struggled in the absence of point guard Moran Lonning, who’s in Brazil for a basketball trip with Luther College.

As a result, the team leaned more on Whitney Jennings, who for the first time this summer was unable to come out with a win.

And given that she dropped 44 in the first meeting between these teams, Joens made slowing her down priority No. 1.

“One thing we talked about before the game was making sure that Whitney had someone in her face every time she shot,” Joens said. “The last time we played her, I think she had close to 50 points, so we knew if we could hold her under that, we might have a chance.”

Jennings still finished with a game-high 36 points, shooting 7-of-12 from the 3 zone. But Joens’ players quelled her effectiveness in transition and forced her to take 30 shots while holding her to just 2 assists.

For Joens, Alexa Kastanek once again excelled on both ends of the floor. She finished with 35 points on 11-of-22 shooting and added 9 rebounds.

“Each time we play a game, we figure out each other’s strengths more and more,” Kastanek said. “We communicated really well tonight, and we were hitting shots that we didn’t hit the first game.”

Marion missed Lonning’s offensive output and the threat she posed alongside Jennings on the break. But the team’s up-tempo style starts with defense. Lonning’s ability to pressure guards with Jennings on that end really drove the transition game that fueled the team’s 4-0 regular season.

“I thought it affected us defensively more than anything,” Larson said. “Now, instead of disrupting people with those two great point guards, we’re much less aggressive defensively, and I thought that was the key.”

At guard, Lindsey Smith pitched in 20 points for Joens, shooting 8-of-12 while also grabbing 13 rebounds. Iowa forward Nicole Smith made her presence on the glass known, too, recording 14 boards of her own.

The team will now move on to play coach Kay DiLeo’s Beat the Bookstore/Westport squad, which advanced to the championship game with an 83-70 victory over Bethany Doolittle’s Comfort Care/Pelling.

“Last week when we played, in the first quarter we had 31 points scored against us,” Joens said. “That was unacceptable; we just talked about not giving them easy, open looks. And since that, the last seven quarters we’ve done a really nice job.”

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