CEDAR RAPIDS — For a brief moment, the Central DeWitt boys basketball team had it all in its grasp.
The momentum… the lead… the path to its first state trip in six years.
It made what followed even more difficult to digest.
Down eight at one point in the fourth quarter, the Sabers surged back in Monday’s 3A Substate 4 final with second-ranked Mount Vernon, cutting their deficit to just one on a three-pointer by senior Zach Hinkle with less than a minute remaining.
And the Sabers were not done. Alex McAleer stole the Mustangs’ inbounds pass after a timeout, while Tucker Kinney fired a pass to Hinkle who continued his hot shooting with a hoop inside to give Central DeWitt its first lead of the second half.
It would only last a moment. Mount Vernon decided against calling timeout and instead put the ball in the hands of junior Keaton Kutcher. The forward calmly worked his way up the court before pulling up for a three-pointer that found nothing but the bottom of the net with 3.6 seconds remaining.
The Sabers still had an opportunity for the win and got off an open look from the corner, but it was off the mark, giving the Mustangs a 52-50 victory.
Just like their two regular season meetings, the Sabers were forced to rally in the second half.
Mount Vernon led by 10 at halftime and had pushed the lead to 11 in the third quarter when Central DeWitt scored some key momentum behind McAleer, who buried a jumper and then turned a Mustangs turnover into a slam to make it 40-33 heading to the fourth quarter.
Another McAleer hoop to open the final stanza and a Kinney three-pointer pulled the Sabers even closer, but Mount Vernon scored the next four points to get the margin back to eight.
The Sabers did not back down. Kinney converted a three-point play to make it 46-41, while Hinkle turned an offensive rebound into a put-back.
That got the senior rolling. He answered two Kutcher free throws with another hoop and then buried his three-pointer after another free throw to make it a one-point game. Hinkle’s eighth and ninth points of the quarter — all coming in the final three minutes — meanwhile, gave the Sabers their lead.
Kutcher’s three-pointer, however, flipped the momentum right back to the Mustangs. The Sabers got the ball to McAleer down the middle of the floor and the senior found Henry Bloom open in the corner. Bloom had just enough time to catch the ball while he was in the air and launch a shot, but the potential game-winner was long, ending the roller-coaster contest.
Central DeWitt hung with Mount Vernon early, thanks to Kinney, who scored the Sabers’ first seven points — including the first four of the game — and eight of the team’s 10 first quarter points.
Kinney added the Sabers’ first four points of the second quarter as well and Central DeWitt jumped in front 16-15 on a McAleer hoop.
Mount Vernon, however, answered right away, kicking off an 11-0 run that forced the Sabers to play catchup in the second half.
Playing in their final game, Central DeWitt seniors accounted for all but two of the team’s points.
Kinney led the way with 23 points and he was joined in double figures by both Hinkle and McAleer, who had 11 and 10 points, respectively (Hinkle scored all of his points after halftime). Logan Paulsen had four points, while Bloom added two.
The Sabers bow out at 18-6. The 18 victories are the second-most this decade, while the six setbacks all came to squads competing in substate finals.