CASCADE, Iowa — When you’re entering Cascade’s house looking for a win, you best be prepared to bust the door down.
While visiting teams have given it a solid kick or two over the past four seasons, no one has gotten through to the other side.
In an Iowa Class 2A heavyweight showdown to close the regular season, the top-ranked Cougars turned a tight game into a rout with a 26-9 run in the fourth quarter to pull away from No. 3-ranked North Linn, 63-40, on Thursday night at Cascade High School.
“I appreciate (North Linn) Coach (Brian) Wheatley, as we’ve been talking about playing each other for a couple years right before tournament time,” Cascade coach Mike Sconsa said. “It’s awesome that they came here tonight and we’ll go there next year, which I’m sure will be a joy. It’s a great tuneup for both of us and was a great high school game.”
Nicole McDermott scored a game-high 19 points with seven steals and four assists, Abby Welter added 13 points and Skylar Dolphin chipped in 12 as the Cougars (22-0) earned their 51st consecutive victory on their home floor. Cascade’s last loss at home was to Durant, 46-40, on Jan. 22, 2016.
“We didn’t really know until people started talking about it these last few days,” McDermott said of the home win streak. “We knew it was there, but it wasn’t make or break if we lose or whatever. We just played our game and came out with a win tonight.”
For the first three quarters, the Cougars and the Lynx (19-2) played like a pair of teams that just might meet again in a few weeks at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Sydney Burke opened the game with a baseline 3 to give North Linn its only lead of the game, but the Lynx never trailed by more than 11 through 24 minutes in the hostile environment.
“Our crowd was fantastic for a Thursday night and our student section was great — outside of the 'overrated' chant, which I can’t stand — and overall I was really proud of what the kids did tonight,” Sconsa said. “We had a lot of players step up and make plays for us.”
Welter scored eight points in the first quarter as the Cougars closed the frame on a 15-8 spurt. When North Linn tried creeping closer before half, McDermott sank a trey and Ally Hoffman — who netted nine points — added another. Then, Cascade’s senior all-state guard converted a basket plus the foul with 9 seconds remaining to take a 27-18 lead at the break.
“North Linn’s a great team and we knew they wouldn’t go away,” McDermott said. “We had to keep up that energy in the second half.”
Ellie Flanagan hit back-to-back shots from beyond the arc at the end of the third quarter as North Linn again extinguished the Cougars’ attempt to break the game open, cutting the deficit to 37-31 heading to the fourth.
“They cut it to six after the younger Flanagan — who we maybe spent about 2 minutes preparing for — made a couple 3s,” Sconsa said. “We came out with Skylar getting an and-1, Ally getting a bucket inside on a little down-screen action and we were able to get to the free-throw line. We got them in foul trouble and contested their shots. They’re a tough team to guard and it went our way tonight.”
The fourth quarter was all Cougars. Dolphin’s and-1 opened the frame, then Welter stepped back and swished a triple. Cascade helped its cause by finishing 10-for-12 from the charity stripe in the quarter, and McDermott’s tough drive for the hoop and the harm made it 54-36 with 2:17 remaining.
“We kind of kicked it in at the end and said let’s go,” McDermott said. “Skylar started hitting shots so that was huge for us, and our momentum got going and we were excited and having fun out there.”
Cascade won its 39th straight regular-season game and held the Lynx 27 points below their season average. The final result made it entirely clear that if you’re going to unseat the Cougars at their house — or even at Wells Fargo Arena — you better play darn good basketball for 32 minutes.
“It’s a great way to end the season in this environment and get ready for postseason,” Sconsa said. “We’re back here Tuesday and we’ll go from there.”