Park Center was coming into this game to not only prove themselves as the #1 seed but also to (presumably anyway) reverse the fortunes of the Northwest Suburban Conference on this day as well. Simley came into this game as the Section 4AAA champs having knocked off New Prague in the sectional championship game. This would be a game of contrasts where Park Center; the smaller, speedier team likes to get things in up-tempo fashion as much as possible while Simley; a team that features a lot of size, likes the half-court game where they can work it into their "bigs".
Things worked out well for the unseeded Spartans early on in this one as they were able to find the range early and often. Lanky 6'1" sophomore guard Abby Kain helped Simley draw first blood with her "3" from the top of the key at the 17:42 mark and another trey by senior guard Maria Paulsen at the 16:36 mark and a jumper from fellow senior guard Maya DeLao had Simley up 8-2 by the 15:14 mark. Park Center would draw to within two trailing 10-8 after lanky freshman post Mikayla Hayes was able to get a score in the paint by the 12:52 mark but the slower half-court tempo definitely favored the Spartans early on and Kain continued to be a thorn in the side for the Pirates as a free throw at the 12:42 mark and jumpers at the 11:48 as 10:12 marks allowed Simley to grab a 20-12 lead just before the midway point of the first half.
Park Center had a somewhat miserable time trying to get into any sort offensive rhythm which allowed the Spartans to maintain that 7-8 point cushion. 6'3" senior forward post Kylie Brown connected on a jumper with 6:36 left for a 25-16 lead that could have had the Pirates in some serious doo-doo. But Park Center which had worked so hard just to get to this stage was not going to let this opportunity to shine at the State Tournament get away from them that easily. A 5-0 Pirate push over the next three minutes sliced the Simley lead down to 25-21; punctuated by a "3" from freshman point guard Danielle Schaub with 3:50 left. Simley's Brown upped the lead back up to six at 27-21 with 2:35 left but a lay-up by freshman guard Ann Simonet with 2:11 left and a late three by junior sharp-shooting guard McKenna DuBois with just :08 left helped Park Center draw back to within four trailing 30-26 when the halftime buzzer sounded - maybe not where the Pirates expected to be but a sight better than what they were looking at early on in the first half.
Simley hoped to re-establish their momentum once the second half got underway and a "3" by Paulsen at the 17:14 mark had the Spartans back up by five at 33-28 but Park Center was starting to come after Simley with more energy on defense which created problems for this Spartan squad. Moreover, they were starting to finally click offensively not only from the perimeter but down low as well. Two treys from DuBois - one at the 16:35 mark and another at the 14:49 mark propelled the Pirates into their first lead at 34-33 and a DuBois lay-up at the 14:13 mark made it a 36-33 game. Simley scores on jumpers by DeLao and and Brown helped keep things close for the Spartans but the tempo of complexion of the game had completely turned in favor of Park Center and those "3's" that were falling for Simley's Kain early on in this contest were not falling down now. Simley's Paulsen did hit a "3' at the 11:22 mark that gave the Spartans their last lead at 40-38 but then Park Center's star senior forward Cayla McMorris, who had been quiet from a scoring standpoint for much of this one, decided it was time to go to work.
Three straight scores by the Wisconsin-bound McMorris at the 11:01, 10:05 and 9:31 marks suddenly had the Pirates back out in front at 44-40 and a McMorris lay-up with 7:06 left made it a six-point 50-44 lead. Then it was Hayes knocking down a short jumper with 6:35 left and another lay-up by McMorris with 5:45 left that expanded the Park Center advantage to 54-44 and a desperate Simley squad simply could not find any answers; especially when they were forced to play the up-tempo style that Park Center favors. An offensive rebound and putback by Hayes with 4:04 left and two charity stripe shots by Hayes with 3:36 left along with a Hayes jumper with 3:29 left maintained the cushion that the Pirates enjoyed. With time becoming a factor, Park Center was deliberate in their offense; working the clock as much as possible and ultimately leaving Simley with no choice but to foul. Simonet, McMorris and Danielle Schaub all knocked down key free throws in the final minutes to put the Pirates into the semifinals with a 68-53 victory; a game that seemed much closer than the final score.
A relieved Park Center Head Coach Chris VanderHyde admitted that it was difficult for his squad to adjust to Simley's half-court offense and that their size certainly was a factor early on. McMorris, who finished with 24 points leading all scorers, was only 4/16 after the first half and the Pirates needed her scoring prowess to get over the hump - and they got it. VanderHyde also said their ball pressure defense and getting out on their guards on defense enabled the Pirates to do a lot of things that they wanted to do. VanderHyde also thought that getting some isolation on the offensive end; particularly with Hayes, was critical as well. As far as Danielle Schaub's performance in this one, VanderHyde said that "she got better for us as the game progressed" and I think that once she adjusted to what Simley was throwing at her on defense, she was just fine. So now the Pirates have taken that first step in the state tournament. Now the nagging question: Can they take the next one after that?