Merle Wiehl’s 3-pointer with seconds remaining helped lift the No. 21 Western Nebraska Community College women’s basketball team to a thrilling 69-66 win over Iowa Western Community College Wednesday night in sophomore recognition night.
The win was the Cougar’s 12th straight and they finished the regular season at home undefeated at 13-0. WNCC is 24-3 on the season and has two regular season conference road games left this weekend before hosting the Region IX tournament March 7-9.
Wiehl, one of the four sophomores and the career and season point record holder, said it was a big win for the team against a national-caliber team.
“That was a really big win, honestly,” Wiehl said. “They were a great team; a national-type team. It was just a great night. We were already excited because it was sophomore night. We haven’t lost at home and then playing a big game in the last regular season game of the sophomores careers and being able to win and to say we haven’t lost a regular season game at home is great.”
It was bigger yet that the four sophomores – Wiehl, Eva Langton, Allysah Boothe, and Andrijana Reljic all had big buckets or rebounds in the win. Wiehl said sophomore night was special to them.
“I remember last year when last year’s sophomores had the special day and I was thinking someday it would be me,” Wiehl, who finished with 23 points Wednesday night, said. “It went by so quick but it has been a great year. It is just an honor to play your last regular season game here and winning it was obviously better.”
The last regular season home game was a nail-biter from start to finish for both teams and the fans. With 7.5 seconds left, Iowa Western’s Kiara Dallmann sank two free throws to tie the game at 66-66. That set up the final play for the Cougars and Wiehl said they executed.
“We were just focused on the game. There was nothing really going on,” Wiehl said. “I can only speak for myself but I didn’t think of what could happen and what would be the result. Coach [Chad Gibney] drew a set up and we actually executed it.”
Wiehl hit the game-winning shot and it was a shot where Wiehl started to drive into the arc and then pulled back with a step-back jumper for three that switched through the net for the winner.
“Before I took the shot, nothing went through my mind. I was just in the moment. I saw that I had some space so I just shot it and it went in. I mean it was pure happiness.”
Up until that game-winner shot, the two teams were playing like national-caliber teams with neither team giving an inch and both teams fought back from deficits.
WNCC started the game leading 12-2 before leading 16-11 after the first quarter.
WNCC pushed the lead to 20-11 on an Andrijana Reljic bucket. Iowa Western fought back, going on a 14-6 run to cut the lead to 26-25. The Cougars went back up 32-26 on a Taylor Joplin 3-pointer and led at halftime 32-28.
The second half had the spectators on the edge of their seats. Iowa Western outscored WNCC 38-37 in the second half. The Reivers took their first lead of the game with 8:37 left in the third on a 3-pointer by Sommer Blackmore. The tame was tied at 40 before WNCC hit three free throws in the final 20 seconds to take a 43-40 lead into the fourth.
WNCC led by seven points on a couple occasions, including 55-48 on a Yuliana Valcheva bucket and then 57-50 on an Allysah Boothe bucket. WNCC led 62-56 with just under three minutes to play on a R’Manie Pulling 3-pointers and that was when the game started to get really intense.
Iowa Western cut the lead to one, 62-61 on a Dallmann bucket. Wiel came back to hit a field goal to put WNCC back up 64-61. The Reivers tied the game with 1:15 to play on a De’Ayra Davis 3-pointers. WNCC went up 66-64 on two Tishara Morehouse free throws with 36.3 seconds. It stayed that way until IWCC tied with it with 7.4 seconds.
It was a night that neither team shot well. WNCC shot 44 percent from the field but were just 8 of 26 from beyond the arc. Wiehl buried three treys while Joplin had two. Iowa Western shot 38 percent from the field and buried 8 of 18 3-pointers.
Iowa Western won the rebound battle 39-36. Reljic led Cougars with 11 boards. While Reljic led the team, plenty of other players also picked up crucial rebounds at key times. Wiehl had eight boards, Joplin had five, and Langton, Valcheva, and Morehouse all had two.
WNCC had three in double figures. Wiehl led the way with 23 points. She also had three steals on 10 of 16 shooting. Joplin finished with 13 with four assists, while Morehouse had 11 points with four assists.
Iowa Western also had three in double figures. De’Ayra Davis tallied 16 with three treys while Sommer Blackmore had 15 with four treys. Kiara Dallmann finished with 10.
WNCC, 24-3, will wrap up the regular season this weekend when they hit the road for two sub-region games at Otero Junior College on Friday and then Trinidad State Junior College on Saturday.
While they won the last regular season home game, they still have home games left as they host the regional tournament. Wiehl said it would be nice to finish off the home stand undefeated.
“I want to leave this place without losing at home so that obviously means going to nationals and that is definitely the goal for this team,” she said. “We are excited that we are able to host it.”
Iowa Western (22-8) 11 17 12 26 – 66
WNCC (24-3) 16 16 11 26 – 69
Zhan’e Williams 5, De’Ayra Davis 16, Sommer Blackmore 15, Binta Salawu 6, Aimee Brett 2, Julia Raflund 4, Aubriana Noti 8, Kiara Dallmann 10.
Tishara Morehouse 11, Merle Wiehl 23, Allysah Boothe 5, Andrijana Reljic 7, R’Manie Pulling 3, Eva Langton 2, Yuliyana Valcheva 5, Taylor Joplin 13.