Panther boys to state
FAIRFIELD — The Mt. Pleasant boys are on their way to the state tournament.
The fourth-ranked Panthers flexed their muscle against a talented Oskaloosa squad on Monday night in Fairfield, running away from the Indians in the second half and securing a 70-40 win.
In a game that was billed to be one of the closest substates of the night, Mt. Pleasant wore down Oskaloosa to win by the largest margin of the entire Class 3A substate schedule.
“It feels great,” said head coach Paul Rundquist, who is no stranger to the state tourney. “I’m proud of the group of kids. They’ve worked really hard. We try, as coaches, to put them in positions to be successful, but the kids followed through the game plan really well.”
The Indians came out on a hot shooting streak in the first quarter, scoring their first nine points on three-pointers, but the Panthers were able to work the ball inside to stay even as the teams split the opening period, 14-14.
The Panthers were able to negate the Indians’ size with smart play inside throughout the first half. Oskaloosa’s 6’8” big man Cole Henry picked up two early fouls in the first quarter, forcing 6’10” Xavier Foster to come off the bench early.
Mt. Pleasant continued grind it out inside, eventually drawing three fouls on Foster in the first two quarters.
“We knew it was going to be tough with their size,” said Mt. Pleasant’s big man, 6’9” Tom O’Connor. “To come out and really just go against them and not worry about it was great. We got the early fouls against them and that helped us the whole way through the game.”
The Panthers clamped down defensively in the second quarter to pull out to a double-digit lead, but a couple of corner three-pointers by Foster kept the Indians within reach and Mt. Pleasant held a 30-23 lead going into halftime. O’Connor had 12 points at the break to lead all scorers.
The Indians scored the first two points of the third quarter, but after that it was all Panthers.
Mt. Pleasant leading scorer Brady Sartorius took over the game and the Indians were on their heels all period.
After Oskaloosa cut the score to 30-25, Sartorius went on a 7-0 run by himself, which was capped off with a three-point play that had a packed Mt. Pleasant student section rocking.
He would go on to score 14 points in the quarter as Mt. Pleasant blew the game wide open, leading by as much as 21 points and holding a 51-32 lead going into the fourth.
“I just had the mind set that I was going to go out and try to take over,” said Sartorius after the game. “After the first couple of shots went in, everything was feeling good.”
The Indians never recovered. Mt. Pleasant continued to pour it on in the fourth quarter.
Jordan Magnani closed the game out with six fourth quarter points to lead the way and the Panthers ended Foster’s night by drawing his fifth foul.
The Mt. Pleasant starters were pulled before the final period ended and the celebration was on as the Panther faithful embraced with their team after the 30-point win.
“It feels really good,” said junior wing Colin Mulford after the celebration. “We were here at this point last year and we didn’t get it. Felt good to get it this time.”
Sartorius ended the night with a game-high 22 points, scoring 16 of those in the second half.
“He’s a great player. He always has been,” said O’Connor about his point guard. “The way he just maneuvers around, he’s so quick and hard to stop off the dribble. It’s unreal. It opens everyone else up.”
O’Connor, who called home to Australia after the win to talk with his parents, knocked in 19 points himself, going an efficient 8-9 from the field, 6-8 from the free throw line and 1-1 from three-point land. He also led the team with six rebounds.
Magnani scored 12 points and led the team with three steals. Kieran Kohorst added 10 points and five rebounds. Mulford had five points and three assists and Maison Ashton scored two.
Jared Kruse led Oskaloosa with 13 points, 11 of which came in the first half. Foster scored 11.
Tanner DeKock had six points in the loss. Henry scored three. Jack Moore, J’Von Harris and Tucker Nunnikoven scored two apiece and Andy Sterner had one.
Mt. Pleasant is the second Henry County team to clinch their spot at Wells Fargo Arena. The New London boys, who punched their ticket on Saturday, were in attendance to see the Panthers move on.
Other 3A teams that will be playing in the state tournament include Cedar Rapids Xavier, Pella, Waverly-Shell Rock, West Delaware, Atlantic, Dallas Center-Grimes and Sergeant Bluff-Luton.
All state tournament brackets will be released in a live video by the Iowa High School Sports Net on Wednesday, March 1, at 1 p.m.
The Panther boys will have a day off of practice today, but Coach Rundquist says the team will be back to business on Wednesday.
“Getting to the state tournament is a nice accomplishment, but we don’t want to be satisfied,” Rundquist said. “I know this is something the kids wanted, but I think they have loftier goals.”