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|3/19/2014 ||Email this article Print this article |
Sabers' magical run ends with second-place state finish
|Eyes on the prize. Members of the 2013-14 Central boys basketball team crowd around the 3A state runner-up trophy presented to them, Saturday night, after the Sabers’ state championship game with Dubuque Wahlert. Throughout the week, the rest of the state found out what many clad in purple and gold already knew — the Sabers had one of the best basketball teams in Iowa. And they’ve got the trophy to prove it.|
By Ross Eberhart
For once, the Central boys basketball team could agree with the naysayers.
This is not where the Sabers expected to be.
Make no mistake, Central believed that its season would end, trophy lifted high, on the floor of Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
But in the Sabers' minds, that sparkling prize displayed in front of Central's large contingent of roaring fans would be gold - not silver.
It very nearly was.
Considered a heavy underdog against a Dubuque Wahlert squad that had rolled through its first two games at state (average margin of victory - 26 points), the Sabers jumped on the Golden Eagles in the first half of Saturday's 3A final and stood just two quarters away from the program's second-ever state title.
It was the Golden Eagles, though, that lived up to their name in the second half. Top-ranked Wahlert stiffened its defense - allowing Central to shoot just 35 percent from the field during the final two quarters - and took the lead for good late in the third quarter before pulling away late for a 67-57 victory.
It proved to be a tough finish to what was an extraordinary campaign for the Sabers, who emerged as the state tournament's biggest surprise (of the 32 teams that qualified for the state tournament, only three - Central, Southeast Polk and, ironically, Wahlert - did so after posting a losing record the year before).
"This is a very special group of players," Central head coach Jeff Frick said. "I am very proud of our accomplishments this season, but more importantly, I am very proud of every player on the team."
Playing for a state title offers plenty of motivation on its own, but the Sabers received an extra dose as the game gave Central an opportunity to avenge a 54-47 regular season setback to Wahlert.
In that game, Central fell behind early before coming up short on a late rally.
It took the Sabers just a quarter to make sure the Golden Eagles knew that Saturday would be very different.
In a near repeat of Tuesday's quarterfinal game with MOC-Floyd Valley, Central senior Kyle Bauer got his team rolling early.
The forward opened the game's scoring with a small jumper in the lane and then answered a pair of Wahlert free throws with a three-pointer.
The Golden Eagles scored again, but so did Bauer, this time on a deeper three, and it was 8-4 Sabers.
The two teams continued to trade buckets. Jared Walker hit a jumper for Wahlert, while Christian Wright dropped in one for the Sabers.
Josh Carter countered with a lay-up to get the Golden Eagles back within two, but Wright nailed a three to make it 13-8.
Wahlert came back, scoring six-straight points to grab its first lead. McClain Steffens, though, put the Sabers right back in front with a three-pointer.
Wahlert tried to answer with its own three, but the shot missed its mark and Central made the Golden Eagles pay as Wright drained his second trey of the quarter.
The shot made it 19-14 and that remained the score as the two teams finished the opening quarter.
"We had a great start to the game," Frick said of his squad, which was a perfect 5-for-5 on its three-point attempts in the first quarter. "We have great shooters on this team and if they can catch (the ball) in rhythm, they are usually very accurate. The team did a great job of getting each other open in a position where we could get some good looks early."
Bauer opened the second quarter with a hoop to push the Central lead to seven and Marty Green answered a Golden Eagle put-back with a lay-up.
Then both teams went cold. The Saber defense did a good job of shutting down the paint, and Wahlert was forced to settle for long perimeter shots which played right into Central's hands.
"Against Wahlert, we needed to make sure that we recognized their shooters and helped on their bigs - especially (Cordell) Pemsl - as much as possible," Frick said. "Our goal was to make them beat us with their outside shot, and limit their penetration and post touches."
The Sabers, though, had their own problems on offense and both squads went nearly three minutes without scoring.
When things did pick up, they did so in a hurry. A pair of free throws by Carter cut Central's lead down to five, but Trevor Green answered right back with a three-pointer to give the Sabers' their biggest advantage of the game.
Carter, however, scored again and Pemsl added two free throws to quickly cut the Saber lead in half.
This time it was Central that responded as Lucas Daniels knocked down a pair of foul shots.
The two teams traded points the rest of the half. Central, though, got a huge lift from M. Green, who scored the team's final four points of the half (the senior had six in the quarter), to help the Sabers bring a 32-28 lead into the break.
The Sabers continued to have an answer for every Wahlert hoop early in the second half.
The Golden Eagles, however, continued to chip away and a three-pointer by Walker with 3:47 left in the third quarter knotted things up at 39.
Central slowed some of the momentum as Wright buried a three-pointer to give the Sabers back the lead.
Unfortunately, Carter tied things up on Wahlert's next possession with an old-fashioned three-point play and Pemsl gave the Golden Eagles their first lead since the opening quarter with a lay-up.
Wahlert added a three-pointer and suddenly the Sabers were staring up at a five-point deficit.
Central responded with Bauer knocking down a pair of free throws. The two foul shots doubled as the final points of the quarter and the stage was set for a fantastic finish with Wahlert up three (47-44).
With the game still up for grabs, neither team was able to snatch it away in the early moments of the fourth quarter, as nearly two minutes elapsed from the stanza before a squad was able to add to its lead.
That team turned out to be the Golden Eagles as Tyler Potts opened the fourth quarter scoring with a bucket inside. That ended up being the start of a 6-0 Wahlert run, and it was a nine-point game with just 3:18 remaining.
The Sabers were not about to go down quietly. T. Green notched Central's first points of the quarter with a pair of free throws and Steffens answered a Pemsl hoop with two foul shots of his own.
Wahlert broke Central's attempt at a press, but Carter missed his lay-up attempt and Central tore down the court the other way. This led to a lay-up for M. Green and suddenly the lead was down to five with still plenty of time on the clock.
Things got even more interesting as Central's pressure forced Wahlert to turn the ball over. This time, though, the Sabers could not come up with its lay-up attempt and the Golden Eagles regained possession and the momentum.
The Sabers' press ended up giving Wahlert open looks and the lead grew back to nine.
Central had one more run in the tank. Down 61-52, the Sabers got a pair of free throws by Steffens and then a three-pointer by Bauer to cut the margin to four with just 55 seconds remaining.
The Sabers, though, could not stop Pemsl, who scored the last of his game-high 23 points to push the lead back to six, and Bauer's three ended up being Central's final points.
Named to the all-tournament team, Bauer led the Sabers in scoring for a third-straight game at state with 17 points, while also grabbing five rebounds and coming up with three steals.
Wright joined Bauer in double-figures with 14 points - a dozen of them coming on four three-pointers.
Steffens dropped in nine points, while M. Green had eight and T. Green five.
Steffens and T. Green both handed out three assists with the latter also grabbing three rebounds (the same number as Wright).
M. Green, Daniels and Jordan Cornelius all grabbed two boards with M. Green coming away with two steals.