WATERLOO – Halli Poock made a last-second cut to the basket. She drew a foul and hit two crucial free throws.
Moments later, Poock climbed a ladder and made the first cut into the net during Waterloo West’s postgame state tournament celebration inside Siddens Gymnasium.
A talented 5-foot-5 freshman catalyst, Poock revealed she’s clutch. Her free throws with one tick on the clock sent West to its first state tournament appearance since 2014, eighth overall, with a thrilling 46-45 victory over No. 12-ranked Urbandale.
“Teammates are there supporting me every day in practice,” Poock said. “We’re all there for each other all the time. We trust each other, really. We just kept going and got it done.”
Poock did it all throughout a 21-point masterpiece. She jumped passing lanes that led to points in transition, knocked down three 3-pointers and scored all nine of West’s first-quarter points after the Wahawks opened the game with three consecutive turnovers and dug an early 8-0 hole.
“She’s got that it factor,” said West’s veteran coach Tony Pappas. “Her skills are at a very high level. She knows how to play the game. She’s a money player, and she showed it tonight.”
Poock’s memorable finish came a moment after West’s players nearly had their hearts ripped out.
Class 5A’s No. 6-ranked Wahawks (19-4) tried to play for the final shot with the score tied at 44 and under one minute remaining. University of Northern Iowa basketball recruit Maya Gyamfi had other ideas when she stepped in front of pass for a steal that gave the 2019 state qualifying J-Hawks (15-8) possession with 16 seconds on the clock.
West burned a pair of fouls to give, but a third foul on Faith Putz’s drive sent the Urbandale senior to the line with five seconds remaining. Putz missed the front end of her one-and-one attempt, but got her own rebound and was fouled on the putback. She then made the second free throw to put Urbandale up one with four seconds remaining.
In the ensuing timeout, Pappas drew up a play for Poock to catch the ball on the run off a diagonal action and race to the basket.
“I said we’ve got this,” Pappas recalled as he turned towards Poock in the huddle. “I’m setting this play. You’re not giving it up. … Get a shot or get fouled.”
That’s exactly what happened.
West’s point guard kept her eyes on the clock as she raced towards the basket and drew contact just inside the 3-point line with one second remaining.
“I had to come up big for our team,” Poock said. “Four seconds is plenty of time.”
The pressure magnified as pandemonium took over West’s home gym.
Poock, a 78% free throw shooter, was just 2-for-6 from the charity stripe when she toed the line with the game in her hands. She stepped up and made the first attempt, then huddled with her teammates before swishing the second.
“It was to go to the state tournament. That’s enough said,” Poock said. “That’s been our goal the whole season and it just had to happen.”
Nervous? “For sure,” Poock responded. “But the whole crowd was there. My teammates all said, ‘Come on, you’ve got this. We trust you.’”
Added Pappas, “She stepped to the line and showed really what a great player she is. There’s no more pressure than this – regional final, packed gym, everybody screaming, state tournament trip on the line. You’ve got to make both of them to do it, and she did.”
For West, it was a beautiful finish to a game that wasn’t always aesthetically pleasing. The Wahawks showed their youth, turning the ball over 15 times – making just 31% of their field goals, 50% of their free throws – and giving up a four-point lead over a 22-second stretch late in the fourth quarter that included a missed layup.
Urbandale’s Maya Gyamfi and Jada Gyamfi each finished with 11 points to lead a J-Hawk team that played just one underclassman.
Still, a West team that starts two freshmen and a sophomore, with another sophomore serving as the sixth-man, refused to get rattled. Once West overcame its initial eight-point deficit, neither team led by more than four for the remainder of the game.
Lone Wahawk senior starter Lauren Conrey hit a pair of 3-pointers as part of her 12-point effort over the final 1:25 of a first half that finished tied at 21.
Sophomore center Brooklyn Smith’s rebounding prowess secured extra looks for the Wahawks. Smith made a clutch front end one-and-one free throw in the fourth quarter with 1:18 remaining that tied the score at 44 entering the frenetic closing sequence.
“Tonight we made some youthful inexperienced mistakes,” Pappas said. “But we’re going to learn from that and get better.”
Conrey says she knew over the past summer that her young teammates were ready for the moment. Poock and fellow starting freshman guard, Sahara Williams, are constantly challenging the senior to one-on-one games in practice.
Together, they’ve made each other better.
“This has been by far my favorite year,” Conrey said. “If it would have ended tonight, I would have been heartbroken.
“I love playing with these girls. This team is just so close. Practice is so much fun with them and playing with them is a feeling that you don’t want to end.”
West’s Pappas has seen plenty over eight state tournament runs through decades of coaching. Yet, this is the first time his team hosted a regional final.
“You saw those students cheering and screaming and jumping up and down and taking pictures,” West’s coach related. “That’s what it’s all about, making great memories for all these kids. They have a legacy tonight because they just put a banner on that wall that will never be taken down.
“I just can’t tell you how proud I am and how happy I am for our players and our coaches and for West High School. We had a phenomenal crowd here tonight that helped carry us to this victory. We’re just ecstatic about tonight.”
West 46, Urbandale 45
URBANDALE (15-7) – Kelsey Heller 1-4 0-0 2, Maya Gyamfi 5-7 0-0 11, Faith Putz 3-10 0-0 9, Madi Lynch 3-5 1-5 7, Jada Gyamfi 5-10 1-1 11, Macy Gaskill 2-7 0-0 5. Totals 19-43 2-8 45.
WEST (19-4) – Halli Poock 7-22 4-8 21, Gabrielle Moore 2-7 0-0 4, Lauren Conrey 4-9 1-2 12, Sahara Williams 2-12 0-0 4, Brooklyn Smith 2-4 1-2 5, Sierra Burt 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-55 6-12 46.
Urbandale 10 11 14 10 – 45
West 9 12 15 10 – 46
3-point goals – Urbandale 5 (Putz 3, M. Gyamfi, Gaskill), West 6 (Poock 3, Conrey 3). Total fouls – Urbandale 13, West 16. Fouled out – Smith.