Tessa Leytem and the Dubuque Wahlert girls basketball team are saving their best for last.
The Golden Eagles cruised past Waukon, 67-55, on Wednesday night in an Iowa Class 3A regional opener at Wahlert.
Leytem led the Eagles, with what coach Kris Spiegler called a "career game," tallying 32 points and 10 rebounds. Beth Walker, a fellow senior, also posted a double-double for the Eagles, recording 14 points and 14 rebounds.
"(Leytem) has a goal," Spiegler explained. "(Leytem) and Beth both have this goal. They are our leaders; they are our captains. They want the season to continue."
The Eagles move on to face West Delaware on Saturday evening. The Hawks upset Western Dubuque, 51-40, in another regional contest Wednesday.
Wahlert is peaking at just the right time. The Eagles have now won nine straight games, including the eight in a row since University of Iowa-bound Claire Till opted to end her senior season to have surgery on her ailing knee.
"We have had kids who have stepped up," explained Spiegler, listing a small committee of players who have filled Till's void. "We have been playing very good team ball."
Waukon, which entered the game on its own seven-game winning streak, used a full-court pressure defense and balanced scoring attack to force a 26-26 tie at halftime. After slipping behind, 6-0, to start the game, the Indians finished the first half on an 8-2 run. Waukon exposed flaws in the Eagles' man-to-man defense, as three Indians scored seven or more points in the opening half.
However, a defensive shift created fits for the Indians (14-8) in the third quarter. The Eagles (18-4) came out in a tight zone defense, limiting the Indians to just two third-quarter field goals on the way to taking a 47-33 at the end of the period.
"We just knew we didn't want the season to be over," Leytem said of the decisive third quarter. "It was now or never. We really stepped up our defense, I think, and calmed down on offense."
Waukon was led by senior Mullen Wacker's 20 points.
"We didn't shoot the ball very well in the third quarter," Waukon coach Gene Klinge said. "A lot of that was due to Wahlert changing (its) defense. That kind of threw our kids off a little bit. We only scored seven points; that was probably the game."