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LEGRAND — With a trip to the Class 2A girls’ state basketball tournament on the line Monday, nothing was going to hold back Grundy Center.

The eighth-ranked Spartans (22-1) used stingy defense and timely free throws to oust No. 13, Pekin (22-3) in an exciting 44-36 overtime victory, punching their first ticket to the big show since 2005.

Both squads held down the opponent’s top scorers in a defensive standoff. It was 32-32 after regulation. Grundy Center took over from there.

“We knew this would be a tough matchup and we knew we would have to hit our free throws down the stretch,” Spartans coach Matt Lindeman said. “We wanted to shut down their leading scorer in Maci Gambell, and we needed to out-rebound them.”

Gambell had just three points, Grundy Center held a 17-12 rebounding advantage after halftime, and the Spartans knocked down their free throws.

“We did much better in the second half with those three factors,” Lindeman added. “We have done a great job in the tournament with our defense and free throws and the girls were mentally tough through it all tonight.”

Junior Hailey Wallis knocked down a field goal and went 4-for-4 from the charity stripe in the extra period.

“I think once it went to overtime we became more calm and confident,” said Wallis. “We wanted to shut down number 23 (Gambell) and we did. We wanted to hit our free throws when we had to and make them count for the team. When we finally went up by five (the Spartans’ biggest lead of the game) I got the chills and it was just so awesome.

“We have played together since we were little kids and with our determination and never give up attitude, we knew we could do this.”

The Spartans used Brooke Flater underneath to build several leads as Flater finished with 15 points.

“Once we found out who we played we really felt good about our chances,” Flater said. “We knew we could get here and we are just so excited to get to this point. This is the greatest feeling in the world and we have played together since third grade and we knew if we stayed together we could make it. It hasn’t sunk in yet, but what a great feeling.”

“Our girls just looked at me going into overtime and said, ‘We got this thing and we are getting stronger,’” said Lindeman. “They get how to compete and we don’t change a thing. We are who we are.”

Grundy Ctr. 44, Pekin 36, OT

PEKIN (22-3) — Maci Gambell 1 1-2 3, Haley Gambell 5 0-1 13, Faith Oostra 2 0-0 4, Zoey Wright 2 3-4 9, Emilee Linder 1 0-0 3, Whitney Johnson 0 0-0 0, Paige Winn 2 0-0 4. Totals 13 4-7 36.

GRUNDY CENTER (22-1) — Hailey Wallis 5 4-4 17, Brooke Flater 5 5-6 15, Kylie Willis 0 3-3 3, Reegan Zinkula 3 0-0 6, Maddie McMartin 0 0-0 0, Cora Saak 0 0-0 0, Sarah Lindeman 0 1-2 1, Sydney Mathews 0 2-2 2. Totals 13 15-17 44.

Pekin 7 9 6 10 4 — 36

Grundy Ctr. 6 10 9 7 12 — 44

3-point goals — Pekin 6 (H. Gambell 3, Wright 2, Linder), Grundy Center 3 (Wallis 3). Total fouls — Pekin 14, Grundy Center 14. Fouled out — Oostra.

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