For the second-straight game, South Tama's girls basketball team has struggled to come out of halftime and play well in the third quarter.
The Trojans struggles early in the second half doomed them Tuesday night against rival West Marshall, who is tied with Grundy Center for the lead in the North Iowa Cedar League West Division. West Marshall doubled South Tama in the third quarter, outscoring the home team 26-13, en route to narrowly defeating STC 57-51.
"That third quarter kills us every time," coach Marsha Keahna said. "I don't know what it is. I don't know why we get so mental. Our intensity just falls off the side of the cliff. We don't need to change the game plan if it's working. Sometimes we get in a hurry up mode, because we tell them to push it down the floor. Then we also take a quick shot, instead of running the offense that got us to the point where we were before."
South Tama junior Trisha Walz, center, battles for a rebound with a West Marshall player Tuesday night. West Marshall beat STC 57-51.
South Tama took a 26-17 lead into halftime as it controlled the first half on both ends of the floor. STC continued playing well during the opening minutes of the third quarter, before WM rallied. Junior Trisha Walz and senior Megan Wanatee scored to start the second half, increasing STC's lead to 13 points. Following two West Marshall free throws, Wanatee hit a three-pointer, giving STC a 33-19 lead.
West Marshall responded with a 24-6 run during the next five minutes to end the third quarter. It started with a 9-1 run during the next two minutes, before STC called a timeout and senior Jade Rohach scored for the home Trojans. However, West Marshall continued to get shots in the paint as it eventually tied the game at 38-38 with 56 seconds left in the quarter.
Junior Sam Holtz hit a free throw to give STC a quick lead. Then West Marshall made a shot with 0:04 remaining in the quarter, stole an STC pass and hit a three-pointer at the buzzer, taking a 43-39 lead into the fourth quarter.
"(West Marshall) got hot," Keahna said. "It got to a point of who wanted it more. I told them that in the huddle. They were going after every pass and we were just standing there expecting the ball to come to us. I asked them if they wanted it more. Then we have to prove it and go get it.
"I also think we got a little tired," she said. "But if I take someone out, they get mad. They need to remember it's a team game and the girls on the bench work just as hard as they do. They can afford to come out for 30 seconds or a minute to let their legs rest. Then they can go back in and go 110 percent. That's a lesson they have to learn. They need to remember it's a team game."
South Tama hung tough in the fourth quarter, but couldn't take the lead. Walz drove to the basket and scored a layup, cutting the lead to four points two minutes into the quarter. Each team exchanged baskets and then Rohach scored with 2:05 left in the game, closing the WM lead to one point.
Less than a minute later, STC junior Regina Balderas missed a layup. West Marshall came down and hit a long three-pointer, increasing its lead to four points. Senior Kaleigh Sieck responded with a three-pointer of her own after two WM foul shots. Rohach missed a shot close to the basket seconds later, which would have cut the lead to two points. Then STC stole the ball but turned it over two seconds later. West Marshall hit two foul shots to end the game.
"We really wanted this one," Keahna said. "We hung so tough with them at their house and never got to the free throw line. We did get some calls our way tonight, which was nice. We just fell a little short.
"I think we had some mental errors at the end," she added. "We hurried a couple shots, because I think they thought they had to hurry and score. That's nerves and pressure that you hope comes with age. We also didn't shoot very well from the line tonight. We had been shooting better in the last few games."
South Tama shot well in the first half as it built an 11-6 lead after the first quarter. After a scoring drought early in the second quarter, Sieck hit a pair of threes on back-to-back possessions to spark the STC offense. She also scored seconds before halftime, giving STC a 26-17 lead at the break.
"I've never seen us play that well together in the first half," Keahna said. "That's the best first half I've seen us play, maybe all season. I'll take that as a small win in our book or as a step in the right direction."
South Tama will travel to Eldora on Friday to play South Hardin, before traveling to Fairbank on Tuesday to play Wapsie Valley. STC will be back at home Jan. 25 to play BCLUW.
"Now we need to go to Eldora on Friday," Keahna said. "Hopefully we can get back to .500 and keep plugging away."