Craig Carlson and his Iowa Central women gave those in attendance at Friday night's Region XI semifinal something to remember for years to come.
Miliakere Koyamainavure scored a career-high 33 points, the Tritons overcame a 14-point deficit in the second half and Theresa Doyle made her triumphant return as Iowa Central pulled out a stunning 94-92 victory.
The Tritons - ranked ninth in the latest NJCAA Div. II poll - will now meet No. 1 North Iowa Area on Saturday inside Hodges Fieldhouse for a berth in the national tournament. The Trojans advanced with a 93-86 overtime win against Des Moines Area.
"Unbelievable," was all Carlson could muster after the final horn sounded.
In fact, the ninth-year head coach of the Tritons (26-5 overall) later admitted he didn't even hear the horn go off.
"I've never heard it get that loud in my coaching career here," Carlson said. "These girls just won't ever give up. They have such heart, and will fight until the very end."
IOWA CENTRAL 94, KIRKWOOD 92
Iowa Central - Babaye Oja 3-10 2-2 10, Katie Dentlinger 3-10 4-4 11, Ashley Ray 4-7 3-4 15, Miliakere Koyamainavure 13-20 7-11 33, Lydia Harvey 6-15 1-2 16, Jasmine Binion 1-5 1-2 4, Chayil Henderson 1-3 0-0 2, Hannah Lentsch 0-0 0-0 0, Nyakat Diew 1-5 0-0 3, Theresa Doyle 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 32-75 18-25 94.
Kirkwood - Ariel Sneed 9-14 4-5 24, Danielle Woolfork 7-19 4-10 20, Katelyn Tuttle 0-2 0-0 0, Mikayla Fallon 3-10 2-2 10, Cassidy Clark 6-10 2-3 15, Anna Martensen 3-6 0-0 6, Tyra Polite 3-9 0-0 6, Taylor Silva 2-8 1-3 6, Kirsten Larson 0-1 0-0 0, Peyton Bockholt 0-0 3-4 3, Breannie Robinson 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 34-80 16-27 92.
Halftime score: Kirkwood led 48-38. Three-point goals: Iowa Central 12-35 (Oja 2-6, Dentlinger 1-4, Ray 4-7, Harvey 3-9, Binion 1-5, Diew 1-4); Kirkwood 8-27 (Sneed 2-4, Woolfork 2-5, Tuttle 0-1, Fallon 2-7, Clark 1-2, Martensen 0-1, Polite 0-2, Silva 1-4, Larson 0-1). Total rebounds: Iowa Central 52, Kirkwood 49. Steals: Iowa Central 2, Kirkwood 5. Blocked shots: Iowa Central 4, Kirkwood 2. Turnovers: Iowa Central 12, Kirkwood 11. Team fouls: Iowa Central 26, Kirkwood 22. Fouled out: Dentlinger, Koyamainavure.
Koyamainavure scored 27 of her 33 in the second half, including six straight at one point as Iowa Central scratched and clawed its way back from a 77-63 deficit.
The Tritons took their first lead with just 1:45 to go on a Koyamainavure basket, as she tallied 12 of 20 points during a five-minute stretch.
"Mili had the game of her life, and we needed every bit of it," Carlson said. "We had players going down with injuries, players fouling out, Kirkwood hitting every shot.
"Despite getting down early, we told the girls to keep their heads up. We were playing with a lot of excited energy in the first half and our shots just weren't falling."
The 11th-ranked Eagles (25-7) were trying to play the role of spoiler, jumping out to a nine-point advantage just minutes into the game. Each time the Tritons would cut the deficit to a single possession, Kirkwood answered, including an 8-0 run to take a halftime lead.
Ariel Sneed led the Eagles with 24 points, while Danielle Woolfork added 20. Kirkwood, which shot 34 of 80 from the field, missed 11 free throws in the game, including nine in the final 20 minutes.
"Sneed gave us fits all night with her size," Carlson said. "We knew this would be a difficult match up for us because of their size, but our girls fought and I felt like the difference was us winning those 50-50 balls in the second half."
Lydia Harvey and Ashley Ray each accounted for eight points during Iowa Central's 56-point half. Harvey, who went down with a knee injury late in the game, finished with 16 and seven rebounds, while Ray had 15 and three assists.
Katie Dentlinger tallied 11 points and seven boards before fouling out. Babaye Oja also reached double figures with 10 and nine boards.
When Koyamainavure picked up her fifth foul, Carlson looked down his bench and found Doyle. The St. Edmond graduate missed the last three weeks with a knee injury, but received clearance from her doctor on Thursday to return to practice.
"That was just a special moment and I had to hold back the tears," Carlson said. "Theresa's meant so much to his program and when she stepped out on that court, the crowd was louder than I've ever heard it in my nine years here.
"She didn't do anything in terms of scoring, but that emotional lift she gave our team and our crowd - that gave us the added boost we needed to win."
Iowa Central will be trying to reach the national tournament for a second straight season when they tip vs. NIACC (30-2) today at 3 p.m. The Trojans won both games during the regular season, including a 108-105 win last Saturday.