By Jeff Linder
DES MOINES — They whittled. They battled. They chopped.
But they couldn’t complete the comeback.
Ninth-ranked Cedar Rapids Kennedy cut a 15-point third-quarter deficit to two in the final minute before bowing to No. 2 Sioux City North, 78-72, in a Class 4A semifinal at the girls’ state basketball tournament Friday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena.
“I never thought we were out of it. Not until the very, very end,” said Kennedy’s Jade Rogers.
North (24-1) will face No. 4 Ames for the championship tonight at 8. Ames (23-2) upset No. 1 Linn-Mar, 45-39, in overtime Friday afternoon.
The Stars scorched Kennedy (17-8) for six 3-pointers in the first half, then held on.
“They threw everything at us, but were still able to finish,” said North’s Josee Jansen, who hit four treys and led the Stars with 19 points.
North held a 15-point advantage on three occasions in the third quarter, the last at 49-34.
Kennedy stormed back behind Rogers, who had the Cougars’ first eight points of the second half. It was 51-47 before North surged again to extend the advantage to 61-49.
The Cougars had one more run in them. Laura Boenish, who played her second straight spectacular game this week, scored on a short baseline shot to make it 71-69 with 1 minute left.
Mariah Duke’s trey got the Cougars within 75-72, but missed a wild tying attempt with 8 seconds left.
“I was just trying to get something done,” she said.
The Stars, who sputtered from the line in the fourth quarter, regrouped to make three of their final four free throws to clinch it.
It was the highest-scoring game of the tournament thus far, and the most entertaining.
North pulled away in the final portion of the second quarter, riding a 10-2 surge to take a 42-30 lead into the locker room.
“I encourage our kids to shoot. I get after them if they don’t shoot the open shots,” said North Coach Kirk Walker. “I figure the more shots we put up, the better chance we have to score.”
The Cougars slowed North’s outside attack somewhat in the second half.
“We talked about giving up one shot,” said Kennedy Coach Dennis Roloff. “We were going to overplay, and not give up as many threes.
“We never gave up. The kids were all over the floor.”
Jalyssa Ceasar and Brittni Donaldson added 18 points apiece for North.
Rogers finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Boenish added 20 points. Rogers and Boenish both hit 9 of 15 field goal attempts.
Haley Brightwell added nine points for the Cougars.
Kennedy started an all-junior lineup, and the Cougars will be among the 4A favorites in 2009-10.
“This is something to feed off next year,” Rogers said.
Duke said, “We’ll be back here again.”