Heartbreak at the WellPanthers watch late lead evaporate, defending champs fall in overtime to W-SR
DES MOINES — They shot well; they played good defense.
They just came up a little short.
The Mt. Pleasant boys’ basketball team had a lead with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers faltered as the clock counted down, allowing Waverly-Shell Rock to tie the first-round, state tournament game and send it into overtime.
From there, the Go-Hawks controlled the game, topping the Panthers by a score of 54-49 at Wells Fargo Arena Tuesday night.
“We just couldn’t put it away … I don’t know what else there is,” Cameron Frank said.
With just a couple minutes left in regulation, things were looking pretty good for the Panthers.
Ryan Hanna hit a jumper to give Mt. Pleasant a six-point lead, 46-40, with 2:43 left to play.
The Panther defense, which allowed only 40 points per game this season and no more than 33 points in any postseason game, was holding up strong against a tough Waverly-Shell Rock team.
But then the Panthers started to struggle. They got a steal with 2:07 left, but turned it over with 1:44 on the clock. Then, Faith Pope — who led the team with 21 points — was called for his fourth and fifth personal fouls in a span of just 15 seconds, sending him to the bench.
“We knew that we needed to keep Cameron (Frank) and Faith (Pope) in the ballgame; those were big calls at the end,” Rundquist said. “(Pope) does so much for us, and not just offensively. His presence inside — we need him inside to rebound for us. When he was not in the game, that hurt us.”
Waverly-Shell Rock’s Klinton Carlson hit a free throw, bringing the Go-Hawks within five. Then Mt. Pleasant missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and Carlson took the ball down the court for a layup, making it a three-point game.
Logan Mulford stretched it back to four points when he made a free throw of his own, but that would be the only shot Mt. Pleasant could sink from the stripe in the last minutes of the game.
Jake Velky cut the Panthers’ lead to two points on the Go-Hawks’ next possession, and a Panther turnover gave the Waverly-Shell Rock the ball back. Drew Demuth tied the score at 47 on a layup with 24 seconds left to play.
Another missed free throw allowed the Go-Hawks nine seconds to score, but their shot and their putback attempt missed the mark, sending the game into overtime.
“We had only nine turnovers in the game, but a couple of those came late.”Rundquist said. “And you’ve got to knock (free throws) down.”
The Panthers finished only three-for-eight from the free-throw line on the night.
They didn’t get a chance at the stripe in the four-minute overtime period, but the Go-Hawks did and took advantage of it, running away with the game as Dan Stensland sank five free throws in the extra period. Velky made a layup to add to the Go-Hawks’ total.
The only basket the Panthers managed in overtime was a jumper by Connor Shull.
Waverly-Shell Rock moves on to face No. 7 seed Davenport Assumption in the semifinal game. Assumption upset No. 2 seed Dallas Center-Grimes in an earlier game on Tuesday, 55-45. The first two Class 3A games were also upsets, with No. 8 Harlan dealing top-seeded Vinton-Shellsburg its first loss of the season, 67-56, and fifth-seeded MOC-Floyd Valley got the win over No. 4 seed Grinnell, 52-44.
Mt. Pleasant finishes the season with a record of 19-6.
“The season had highs and lows,” Hanna said. “We achieved our goal of making it to the state tournament. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but we can’t hang our heads on that.”
The Panthers came out strong at the start of the game, as Frank made a layup, assisted by Mulford, to put them on the board.
Pope then sank a jumper, a pair of layups and a 3-pointer over the next three minutes to give Mt. Pleasant an 11-4 lead as Waverly-Shell Rock struggled to find the basket.
But the Panthers faced a few struggles of their own. Pope had been called for two fouls in the first quarter as he tried to stop the nearly unstoppable Carlson, who ended up with a game-high 22 points on the night. The 6-foot-8 UNI recruit drove hard to the basket, making it difficult for opponents to avoid fouls if they get in the way.
The Panthers did slow him down in the second half — they sent help from the backside when Carlson got the ball down low, and he managed only seven points after halftime.
“You’ve got to double off on him to stop him,” Rundquist said.
However, Carlson wasn’t the only one scoring. Stensland finished with nine points and Velky had eight; seven different Go-Hawks had at least two points.
“Some of their other players stepped in, hit some big shots,” Rundquist said. “That’s what good teams do.”
By that definition, Mt. Pleasant would also be considered a good team: six different Panther players had at least two points.
Hanna finished with nine, all of which came in the second half. Frank had eight points on the night and Mulford scored seven. As a team, the Panthers shot 58.8 percent from the floor. They shot 48.0 percent in the first half, but were 64.7 percent from the field in the second half.
The Panthers were out-rebounded by Waverly-Shell Rock, 28-18. Pope led Mt. Pleasant with five boards. The Go-Hawks had 10 offensive rebounds to Mt. Pleasant’s two, leading to eight second-chance points for Waverly-Shell Rock.
The Panthers finished with seven steals on the night, led by Pope with three. Dalton Conrad dished three assists.
After the Panthers jumped out to a big lead at the start of the game, the Go-Hawks chipped away until they managed to take a 15-14 advantage early in the second quarter. The teams fought back and forth from there, with the Go-Hawks taking a four-point edge into halftime, 26-22.
“It was a battle; we knew it would be,” Rundquist said.
Waverly-Shell Rock was able to build its lead early in the third quarter, going up by as many as 10 points just three minutes after halftime.
Then the Panthers started fighting back. They got a lot of help from Hanna, who had seven points in the third quarter alone, and they went into the final quarter down by only one, 36-35.
“The kids came back. They stuck with the game plan, and I’m proud of them for that,” Rundquist said. “(Waverly-Shell Rock) is a good ball club.”
Unfortunately, they were good enough to top the defending state champions.
The loss in Des Moines ended the high school basketball career of seven Mt. Pleasant players. Frank, Hanna, Pope, Shull, Mulford, Conrad and Brant Shelman will graduate in the spring.
“It’s been a blast,” Frank said. “We have a great program here. Every game, every practice is fun. It’s a thrill.”
“I’m happy the kids allowed themselves to be coached,” Rundquist said. “The players and the staff did a super job this season.”
MT. PLEASANT (49)
Logan Mulford 2 2-4 7, Cameron Frank 4 0-3 8, Ryan Hanna 4 1-1 9, Faith Pope 9 0-0 21, Connor Shull 1 0-0 2, Dalton Conrad 1 0-0 2.
3-point goals: Pope 3, Mulford.