By Zach James
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
---- — UPDATE: Central DeWitt Sabers fall 67-57 at state tournament
The Central DeWitt Sabers have won 23 games so far this season, but they're still looking for one more.
DeWitt will be playing for the Class 3A Championship tonight at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines at 6:30. As expected, the Sabers are excited to be playing in a championship game for the first time since 1981.
"It's big for us personally, because we've been working at this ever since fourth grade," said Sabers guard Kyle Bauer following Thursday's semifinal win over Waverly-Shell Rock. "We're proud to be here; it means the world to everybody.
"The community is celebrating just like we are," Bauer said.
Making the state championship game seemed like a dream for DeWitt following a 10-12 season in 2012-2013, but Bauer knew his team could make it to this point, and now, no one is snickering at the idea that the Sabers could bring home the big hardware this weekend.
"We earned this respect, and we didn't have this respect going into the year," Bauer explained. "We were pre-ranked last in the conference if I can remember correctly and now we're in the top two.
"All year we've been doubted, but we come out and play Saber basketball," Bauer said.
According to the Iowa Prep Sports boys' basketball polls, DeWitt was not in the rankings in its early polls, but started to gain respect early, jumping into the polls as early as week two.
"We knew we wanted to go to state way back in camp," Bauer said. "We've made dreams come true this year."
Sabers guard McClain Steffens also recalls setting those goals in the summertime.
"We knew we were going to be a good team," Steffens said. "Our sophomore team was pretty good last year, and we've worked hard for it this year."
The Sabers will be going at it again against the Dubuque Wahlert Golden Eagles.
The two met on Jan. 4 in a game that saw its ups and downs for each team. DeWitt lost the game at home to Wahlert, 54-47.
DeWitt scored just nine points in the first quarter, and scored no more than 15 points in any of the periods.
Bauer scored 21 points in that game on 7 of 14 shooting that included hitting four 3-pointers. Bauer is the state tournament's leading scorer in Class 3A averaging 21.5 points a game.
When asked about what Steffens remembered from the Jan. 4 loss, his answer was cut to the point.
"I remember losing," Steffens said matter-of-factly.
Bauer recalls the Golden Eagles were not sporting good sportsmanship on the floor.
"They talked a lot," he said. "Now, we're ready to shut them up, and that's what we're going to work for. We want this rematch, so we're ready to see what we need to do."
Steffens believes defense needs to be stronger than in the loss to make sure the Sabers don't become the runner-up.
"We have to pick it up more defensively, and be more patient on offense and work the ball more," Steffens said.
Now, the two will be battling it out on the biggest stage in Iowa high school hoops.
"This is big for our school, for our community, and obviously for this basketball team," Sabers coach Jeff Frick said. "Wahlert is an excellent, excellent team; they've got inside and outside.
"That game happened awhile ago, though, and we're a different team and I'm sure they're a different team," Frick said.
Cordell Pemsl is the big guy that the Sabers will have to hone in on. Pemsl stands at 6-foot-7, wears No. 40, and used his size on Harlan on Thursday to haul in a 14-point, 11 rebound double-double. In the Golden Eagles quarterfinal win, Pemsl had eight points and three rebounds.
Pemsl shot 58 percent from the floor during the regular and substate seasons, averaging 15 points a game.
Josh Carter and Jared Walker should also be at the top of the Sabers' scouting reports of the Golden Eagles.
Carter is the No. 6 scorer in the 3A tournament averaging 15 points a game, which was right around his average during the regular and substate seasons.
Walker, on the other hand, is the No. 7 scorer in the 3A tournament putting up an average of 14.5 points in Wahlert's two wins. Walker led the Golden Eagles in assists prior to the state tournament, dishing out 86 assists. He only had two assists on Thursday.
The championship game starts at 6:05 tonight in Des Moines.
Infobox #1 What have the Sabers done all week? - Zach James, Herald Assistant Sports Editor DES MOINES -- It's quite the drive from DeWitt to Des Moines. According to Google Maps, the drive from DeWitt to the state capital is a 181-mile drive that takes a little over two and a half hours one way. So, it would be inefficient for the Central DeWitt Sabers to go back and forth between games. With permission from the school's administration, the Sabers have been allowed to spend the week in Des Moines. "They've been excellent," Sabers coach Jeff Frick said. "They said if we were able to win Tuesday that we could stay the whole week out here." Frick said that not having to make those long commutes has been good for game preparation. "It's been a huge help," Frick said. "It keeps them focused on basketball, it helps with team chemistry, and it's allowed us to practice more." The team has practiced at some of the top basketball facilities over the past week as well. On Sunday, the Sabers stopped in Iowa City to practice at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, then practiced at the Knapp Center (home of the Drake Bulldogs), then spent most of the week practicing on Grand View University's campus. "It's a great experience," Frick said. "The unity that this team has and doing all the things together, it's been a great time." INFOBOX #2 ZACH'S KEYS TO THE GAME • Just play your game This is the 27th game this season for the Sabers. The rules don't change. It's just another basketball game. Granted, the stakes are higher than in any game in 33 years, but the gameplan shouldn't be any different. • Big guys, bring your lunch pails again Cordell Pemsl is a 6-foot-7 big man who loves to crash the glass for the Golden Eagles. He showed it on Thursday night by reeling in 11 of the team's 47 rebounds against a Harlan team who has 10 guys over 6 feet tall. Defend the glass. • Make first half defense a priority The Sabers have forced their opponent to single-digit scoring in each tournament game. On Tuesday against MOC-Floyd Valley, the Sabers forced the Dutchmen to settle for eight points in the first quarter. Then, on Thursday, DeWitt held W-SR to nine points in the second quarter.