Exira-EHK players pose for the cameras following Wednesday’s state tournament win over AGWSR. Exira-EHK senior Sophia Peppers dribbles away from AGWSR’s back court pressure in the fourth quarter as Cougar coach Laurie Gann looks on. Peppers scored 16 of her game-high 24 points in the second half as the Spartans prevailed 57-47 in Wednesday’s state quarterfinal game at Wells Fargo Arena. Exira-EHK senior Kealey Nelson scores two of her 18 points in the victory over AGWSR. Spartan freshman Tatum Grubbs spots an open teammate as Aubrie Fisher defends for AGWSR. (Photos by Mike Oeffner)

Seniors deliver Spartan victory at crunch time

1A Girls State Tournament Quarterfinal: Exira-EHK 57, AGWSR 47... Peppers, Nelson produce clutch fourth-quarter plays as E-EHK girls outlast Cougars

 DES MOINES (Feb. 28) -- For three and a half quarters on Wednesday, Exira-Elk Horn-Kimballton and AGWSR waged a back-and-forth battle in search of consistency.
 The lead changed hands eight times and there were seven ties. Momentum was fleeting.
 But with the outcome hanging in the balance at Wells Fargo Arena, Spartan seniors Sophia Peppers and Kealey Nelson did what they always seem to do at crunch time. They took over the game.
 Peppers and Nelson combined to score 16 of the team’s 17 fourth-quarter points, including the biggest 5-0 run of the day during a span of 25 seconds, as the fourth-seeded Spartans finished off the fifth-seeded Cougars 57-47 in a Class 1A girls state basketball quarterfinal.
 Playing in their fourth state tournament, Exira-EHK’s only two seniors combined for 42 points and 17 rebounds all told and the 7th-ranked Spartans (24-1) advanced to the semifinal round for the third time in four tries. They will face top-ranked and two-time defending 1A champion Springville (22-3) on Friday at 1:30 p.m.
 “They’ve been there, done that, and it’s what we’ve been relying on this year,” E-EHK coach Tom Petersen said of his seniors. “We didn’t play great basketball today by any means, but your goal is just to advance."

    Peppers, starting in her sixth state tournament game, finished with 24 points, nine boards, five steals and four assists, making 14-of-16 free throws.
 Nelson scored all 18 of her points during the final three quarters, making 6-of-11 field goals and 6-of-8 free throws. She added eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks and also guarded the Cougars’ top scorer, senior Mandy Willems, down the stretch.

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