Eighth-ranked Ames spoiled No. 3 West Des Moines Valley's bid to claim the league crown outright with a 52-46 victory Tuesday night. At 5-2 in the conference, the Little Cyclones (14-3) are now just a game back of the Tigers (16-2, 7-1) in the standings.
It was a much-needed bounce back game from Friday's loss at struggling Newton.
"I think the loss Friday made us stronger as a team, and we really wanted to come back tonight and prove ourselves again," Ames junior guard Amy Hamilton said.
The Little Cyclones need to win their last three conference games and hope the Tigers split their final two to earn a share of the crown.
Ames put itself in position to have a shot at sharing the conference title with a solid, consistent team effort over 32 minutes. The Little Cyclones took the lead right before halftime and never gave it up in the second half.
"Ames-Valley is a great rivalry, so we know it's one game where we never have to worry about focus with the kids," Ames coach Joel Sullivan said. "The kids had great focus and executed the game plan, and we were able to take away a victory."
The Little Cyclones spent most of the fourth quarter battling a relentless Valley full-court press while trying to hang on to a six- to eight-point lead. The Tigers had Ames scrambling and fumbling and using all its timeouts while trying to avoid five-second calls.
The Tigers were able to force their share of turnovers with their frantic pressure but couldn't convert them into points and never got closer than four points. When the Little Cyclones did break the pressure and draw a foul, Hamilton calmly made 11 of 12 free throws in the quarter.
"I knew I had to make my free throws because if I didn't, (Valley) would have a better chance of coming back," Hamilton said. "I knew I just had to put them in for my team."
Sullivan saw the Valley press as a curveball that threw his team off because it wasn't ready for it.
"Out of all the things we've prepared for, a full-court press was something we haven't prepared for because we hadn't seen that out of Valley all year," Sullivan said. "The situation called for it because they had to do something to change things up, and it worked.
"They made us use all of our timeouts, and I would've bought two of three more timeouts if I could've."
Hamilton drained a 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer that gave the Little Cyclones a 25-23 lead after an evenly contested first half. The Little Cyclones then used an 10-2 run midway through the second half to get some breathing room with an eight-point lead.
A key to Ames' second half success was slowing down Valley junior center Molly McClelland. McClelland did what she wanted in the paint early in the game, scoring 14 first-half points, but she scored only two in the first 14 minutes of the second half and finished with 23.
"It's going to sound funny but I thought Alexa (McGrory) did a great job holding McClelland to 23 points because that was part of our plan," Sullivan said. "We were going to let her score because we know she's going to score, so we tried some different things to slow their offense down. We told Alexa she was on her own with McClelland and to do what she could."
Hamilton led the Little Cyclones with 17 points and also had five assists and three steals. After Hamilton, it was a balanced offensive output as Natalie Hashemi-Toroghi came off the bench to score eight points and McGrory and Katie Kramer added six each. Jayne Strand tallied six rebounds and five points.
"I told the kids in the locker room that no one person won this game for us; it was a great team effort," Sullivan said. "We knew that's what it would take to beat a team like Valley. It would have to be a team win, and that's what it was."
The Little Cyclones won the junior varsity game, 40-20, behind 12 points from Katie Marsden and nine points, seven steals and seven rebounds from Jessie Curry.
The Little Cyclones play host to Mason City Friday.
Ames 10 25 33 52
WDM Valley 12 23 29 46
Ames (52) - Amy Hamilton 2 11-12 17, Katie Kramer 3 0-0 6, Jayne Strand 2 1-2 5, Trisha Nesbitt 1 1-2 3, Alexa McGrory 3 0-0 6, Steph Bystrom 1 0-0 3, Maria Fabiosa 1 2-4 4, Natalie Hashemi-Toroghi 4 0-0 8. Totals 17 15-20 52.
Valley (46) - Emily Hejlik 1 0-0 2, Elena Leon 2 1-2 5, Molly McClelland 9 5-8 23, Amanda Waldenmaier 3 0-0 6, Ashton McClairen 2 2-2 7, Carly Ahansen 1 0-0 3. Totals 18 8-12 46.
3-pointers:Ames 3 (Hamilton 2, Bystrom 1), Valley 2 (McClairen, Ahansen). Total fouls: Ames 15, Valley 20. Fouled out - Leon.