MONROE — Sharp shooting, fluid passing and pressure defense were all on display on Thursday night. Prairie City-Monroe’s girls basketball team put on a display against Heart of Iowa Conference rivals Saydel, topping the Eagles at home, 66-41.
PCM took an early 18-point lead, which was whittled down to 14 shortly before halftime, but junior transfer Rachel Freland erased any possibility of a comeback with two 3-pointers early in the third quarter.
“Early on, our pressure got to them,” PCM coach Bret Grier said. “We were able to get some steals early on, and while (leading scorer) Courtney Van Houweling wasn’t able to get going early, other girls like Rachel Freland and Abbi Gilson were able to pick it up for us. That’s what we need is some balanced scoring.”
Freland hit 8-of-14 shots for 20 points to lead the Mustangs. Her arrival following the winter break has given the Mustangs an added weapon from the perimeter, as well as on defense.
“She’s able to knock down some threes and the way she handles the ball against pressure is big,” Grier said. “The one thing is she’s able to attack gaps, whether it’s a zone or a man defense. She finishes so well at the rim. It’s so nice to have that on your team.”
PCM got on top from the start, getting out to a 14-6 lead at the midway point of the first quarter. Van Houweling stepped into the passing lane for a steal and hit Freland for an easy layup. Freland then stole the inbounds pass for another easy two, pushing the lead to 18-6. Gilson swished a jumper from the elbow, and Freland hit a 3-pointer to close out the first quarter with the Mustangs up, 28-10.
Saydel was able to control the pace and slow the game down in the second. The Eagles rolled off four straight points before Gilson hit two free throws. Saydel’s Cassie Chubb hit a three, then Gabbie Richards converted a three-point play to close the gap to 12. Lexi Kain banked in a shot for PCM, and Gilson made a post move for a bucket, making the score 40-26 at halftime.
Freland drained back-to-back threes at the start of the second half to push the lead back up to 18. Van Houweling added a free throw to make it 50-31. Emma Bowman answered with a layup for the Eagles. PCM freshman Kayla Jennings finished through contact twice for four more Mustang points, and PCM closed out the third quarter ahead by 19, 54-35.
Gilson and Van Houweling added buckets in the fourth quarter as the Mustang lead eclipsed the 20-point mark, and with less than four minutes remaining, Grier was able to pull his regulars with an assumption of victory.
“I was a little worried tonight heading into the game,” Grier said. “Saydel, we really struggled to beat them the first time. We knew that they were going to be very physical and scrappy, playing hard against us the whole night. Also, they’ve been playing a lot better, but obviously our girls stepped up and played really well.”
Freland’s 20 led the team, followed by 17 points from Gilson and 10 from Van Houweling, Gilson led the team in rebounds with five. Freland’s five assists were a team-high.
With five straight wins and post-season play looming, Grier is happy with the way his Mustangs are playing, but as he explains, winning handily most nights will not get the team ready for stiffer competition. He wants to see his girls challenged and hopes that happens this weekend when North Polk comes to Monroe.
“The true test for us will be Saturday night, when North Polk comes to play us,” Grier said. “They have two of the best players in the state on their team in Megan and Miranda Murphy. We’ve won a few games by 20 points or more, and after each game I keep saying ‘Well, I’m not sure how good they were.’ Now, we’re going to play North Polk, and hopefully they give us a real test.”
After that, the Mustangs have one remaining game at Collins-Maxwell/Baxter before postseason play starts. Grier said his team looks like they’re built for an end of the year run.
“We told the girls since the beginning of the year that it wasn’t where we start, it’s where we finish. We want to continue to push, push, push until the end of the year,” he said.
Saydel — 10-16-9-6 — 41
PCM — 28-12-14-12 — 66
Saydel — Emma Bowman 6/0-0-3-15, Brooklyn Allgood 1/0-2-2-4, Jordan Johnson 0/1-3-2-5, Liz Miklus 0/0-4-0-0. Lesa Wicks 0/0-1-0-0, Cassie Chubb 6/1-0-0-15, Gsbbie Richards 1/0-5-0-2. TOTALS: 14/2-15-7-41
PCM — Van Houweling 3/1-3-1-10, Kain 2/0-3-0-4, Rachel Gulling 2/0-2-1-5, Katie Vande Wall 2/0-2-2-6, Rachel Stafford 0/0-2-0-0, Freland 5/3-1-1-20, Gilson 4/1-1-6-17, Jennings 2/0-0-0-4 TOTALS: 20/5-14-11-66