NEOLA, Iowa — Tri-Center hadn’t beaten Council Bluffs St. Albert in two seasons.
And when it had a chance to put the Saintes away Tuesday, it struggled to get it done.
The Trojans (16-6) had a 12-point lead during the third period of the Class 2-A, Region 8 quarterfinal, and St. Albert had gone 12 minutes without a field goal.
Yet, Tri-Center still had to survive a rough final stretch to secure a 36-31 win to advance to Friday’s regional semifinal in Mapleton against second-ranked Lawton-Bronson (21-1).
The Trojans needed two Kaylee Grote free throws with 26 seconds left to clinch it. Those came moments after St. Albert’s Faye Assmann missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
Tri-Center coach Julius Michalik said it was nerve-racking to have to go down to the wire.
“It’s a playoff game. It’s St. Albert. And we have four seniors so everybody was a little tense,” he said. “That’s how it goes. I’m glad we battled back and came up with a victory in the end.”
The Trojans ended the first half on a 16-4 run and led 26-14 after Grote’s driving basket to open the third quarter.
St. Albert (11-9), meanwhile, was in a drought. It went without a field goal from the seven-minute mark of the second quarter until there was three minutes left in the third.
Kylie Ferguson had both baskets. Her two foul shots were the only points for the Saintes in between.
She finished with 14 of her team’s points while going 4 for 11 from the field. St. Albert’s other players were a combined 7 for 39 (18 percent).
“That’s been our downfall in a lot of games that we’ve lost,” Saintes coach Dick Wettengel said. “We tend to search for a scorer sometimes. If it’s not Kylie, that’s where we struggled this year ... just trying to find that other person to step up. Nobody did tonight.”
Tri-Center, which scored a season-low 28 points in its December loss to St. Albert on the same court, had a similar problem. After building its lead, it struggled offensively.
The Trojans slowed the pace of the game, but they turned the ball over 15 times after the break.
Grote scored all but two of her team’s 12 second-half points, including all eight in the fourth period. The junior also had five rebounds and five assists as the Trojans labored to the end.
“It was frustrating, but we’ve been in similar situations before,” she said. “We just know we have to keep pushing and it will fall. And if we play good defense, it will all fall into place.”
Assmann had five fourth-quarter points for St. Albert, including a 3 with 1:14 left to pull the Saintes within 34-31. She had a chance to tie the game after a missed one-and-one by Tri-Center’s Alex Larsen, but her shot was off the mark.
Grote then sank both ends of the bonus at the other end for the final margin.
Assmann joined Allison Cox, Nevada Meis and Nicole Rollins as outgoing seniors for St. Albert. Wettengel praised their effort on a night when his team couldn’t get over the hump.
“We had plenty of chances,” he said. “I thought we did a great job of stepping up and pressing. We turned them over and had plenty of opportunities. But we still didn’t do it on the offensive end.”
CB St. Albert (11-9) ................. 10 4 8 9—31
At Tri-Center (16-6) ................. 10 14 4 8—36
CBSA: Assmann 2-10 0-0 5, Ferguson 4-11 5-6 14, Wettengel 1-5 0-0 2, Meis 1-10 2-2 4, Rollins 0-2 0-0 0, Cox 1-4 0-0 2, Thomas 0-2 0-0 0, E. Munger 0-0 0-0 0, M. Munger 2-6 0-1 4. Totals 11-50 7-9 31.
TC: A. Larsen 1-4 1-3 4, Baatz 2-5 1-2 6, H. Larsen 3-5 0-0 6, Paulson 0-7 0-0 0, Sullivan 1-2 0-0 2, Grote 5-7 3-4 14, Lehan 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 14-32 5-9 36.
3-point goals: SA 2-11 (Assmann 1-6, Ferguson 1-2, Wettengel 0-3), TC 3-8 (A. Larsen 1-1, Baatz 1-2, Paulson 0-2, Grote 1-3). Rebounds: SA 28 (Meis 11), TC 32 (H. Larsen 9). Assists: SA 4 (Assmann, Ferguson, Wettengel, E. Munger 1), TC 9 (Grote 5). Turnovers: SA 13, TC 23. Total fouls: SA 14, TC 11. Fouled out: None.