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Lynx capture a 2A thriller, 47-45

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TROY MILLS North Linn claimed the rubber match, by the blink of an eye.

Heather Sabers' game-tying shot came a split second after the final buzzer, and fifth-ranked North Linn held off No. 11 Maquoketa Valley, 47-45, in a Class 2A girls' basketball regional-semifinal dandy in front of a capacity crowd of about 800 Friday night at North Linn High School.

"Unbelievable," North Linn Coach Brian Wheatley said after the Lynx (22-1) advanced to the regional final for the third straight year; they'll face Iowa Valley (20-2) Monday at Tiffin.

"I don't know what to say. That was unbelievable."

Nicole Miller scored 30 points (20 in the first half), and North Linn survived every challenge issued by the Wildcats (20-3) in a game that matched the Tri-Rivers West Division co-champions.

They split in the regular season, then North Linn won the winner-take-all finale.

"It's what you want out of a high school girls' basketball game," Maquoketa Valley Coach Scot Moenck said after exiting an emotional locker room. "Both teams battled their hearts out. It's the way it should be."

North Linn ran to an 11-point lead in the first half, Maquoketa Valley rallied to tie it twice late in the third quarter, then the Lynx held a small edge the rest of the way.

Five times in the final period, the Wildcats got within a point, and several times they had possession with a shot for the lead.

Miller made the front end of a one-and-one with 26 seconds left to give the Lynx a 47-45 lead, setting the stage for the frantic finish.

Brooke Wooten missed a contested shot as the clock ticked down, then Sabers gathered the rebound and converted just a moment too late.

Television video confirmed the officials' call.

"We knew they would make a run," Miller said. "They always do."

Miller scored North Linn's first 12 points, and her 3-pointer capped a 12-0 run that put the Lynx in front 24-13 midway through the second quarter. She hit 10 of 19 floor shots, including 4 of 7 from long distance. The junior also posted five rebounds and four assists.

"She makes stuff happen," said teammate Libby Falconer. "She can score, she can get the ball to me or someone else."

It was 26-19 at halftime, then the Wildcats went on that inevitable surge.

"The third quarter is their quarter, and that's where we kind of fell apart," Falconer said. "We just had to play through it."

Maquoketa Valley got even at 29-29 and 31-31. Falconer's putback gave the Lynx a 33-31 lead at the end of the third quarter, then it was punch and counterpunch in a breathtaking fourth period.

Three times the Lynx pushed the lead to four points. Each time the Wildcats crept back within one. Brianna Mensen's 3-pointer made it 44-43 with 3:25 to go. Miller fed Morgan Boer for a basket, then Ashley Holtz did likewise for Wooten with 50 seconds to play to get the Wildcats within 46-45.

"I'm so proud of our kids," Moenck said. "We got down 11, and it could have gone south in a hurry. The kids didn't let that happen."

Wooten registered 18 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats.

North Linn got to the doorstep of Des Moines in 2012 and 2013. Another opportunity awaits Monday.

"As great a game as this was, it would be a disservice to Maquoketa Valley if we don't finish this off," Wheatley said. "It's time for us to clear that next hurdle."

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