By Jon Gremmels
CLARENCE — When Logan Wilhelm picked up his fourth foul with 2 minutes, 8 seconds left in the third quarter, the spirits of the Springville fans rose. They thought their team had Easton Valley in trouble.
The Orioles, ranked eighth in the Iowa Class 1A state poll, had just taken a 34-32 lead on a Greg Pauly basket on the previous possession. When Wilhelm, Easton Valley's 6-foot-8 senior center, committed his fourth offensive foul just 14 seconds later, the Orioles' fans celebrated, sensing the opportunity to avenge an earlier loss to the 10th-ranked River Hawks.
Surely, the big man was headed to the bench.
But, Wilhelm stayed on the court, determined he could play another 10 minutes without committing a fifth foul.
"I had to be in there because Elias is a good player and all," Wilhelm said, referring to Springville's 6-6 standout Elias Nissen, who led the Orioles with 18 points.
"He and I have argued about this before," Easton Valley coach Dan Beck said, explaining the decision to keep Wilhelm in the game. "When he gets in foul trouble, he says, 'Just leave me in; I won't foul. Just leave me in; I won't foul.'
"At that point, I thought if we pull him out, the game could be over. So I just looked at him and said, 'What do you think?' He looked at me and said, 'I'm good,' so I had to trust him there, too."
It turned out to be a fateful move.
Wilhelm delivered one 3-pointer and Chase Zaruba followed with two more as Easton Valley closed the third quarter with a game-changing run and went on to beat Springville 60-49 on Thursday to win the Iowa Class 1A District 7 boys basketball championship at the North Cedar gym.
"I felt like we just took control and we had it from that point," Wilhelm said.
The victory left the River Hawks one win away from a trip to Des Moines for the state tournament. They face Danville on Saturday night at Iowa City West High School in the substate final.
"We just need to keep playing like we're playing and make it to the state tournament," Wilhelm said. "That's our goal."
The goal got a little closer Thursday when Easton Valley beat Springville (22-2) for the second time this season. The River Hawks (20-2) took control in dramatic fashion after Wilhelm's fourth foul. They simply pulled him out on the perimeter.
"That was the game plan at the time because they were packing it in there tight," Zaruba said. "They were guarding him tight, so we couldn't get him the ball and post him up, so we had to try something different."
Beck said: "Moving Logan outside with his foul situation — we shoot threes every day; he's a very good three-point shooter. I had a lot of faith in him. That's why I put him out there. Until the kid actually proves it in a game, you never know, but I was pretty sure we'd be OK with him out there."
It didn't take long for assurance.
Following a timeout, Wilhelm, who finished with 19 points, dropped in a 3-pointer from right of the top of the key with 1:20 left in the third quarter to put Easton Valley ahead to stay, 35-34. Zaruba added another one from the right corner with 49 seconds left and completed the strong finish to the quarter with another from the right wing with 12 seconds left.
"Big shots," Zaruba said. "I could definitely feel (momentum) swinging. It was a really good feeling, but the game still wasn't over. We still had to keep the pressure on, play good D and knock our free throws down at the end."
They did just that.
Springville closed within 43-41 on a 3-point basket by Pauly (11 points) with 5:31 left in the fourth quarter, but Craiton Andresen saw an open lane to the basket at the other end and drove in for a layup, then Zaruba made a steal in the backcourt and hit a layup seconds later.
The Orioles never got closer than four after that, and Easton Valley widened the final margin to double digits.
"Our kids are just competitors," Beck said. "Chase is just an incredible competitor. He just hates to lose. This is about the third game this year where he's just turned it on down the stretch to help us get through the top spots. I just can't say enough about our effort."
Zaruba carried Easton Valley's offense much of the night. He scored a game-high 30 points that included six 3-point baskets.
He had a hand in all the points early as the River Hawks built a 10-2 lead. He opened the scoring with a 3-pointer, scored two more off a steal, assisted on a Wilhelm basket and buried another 3-pointer to make it 10-2 with 3:18 left in the opening period.
The River Hawks struggled after that, though.
Springville ended the quarter on a 9-0 run to go ahead. Easton Valley fought back in the second quarter, pulling even on a three-point play by Wilhelm and taking the lead on a 3-pointer by Zaruba. The River Hawks went to the locker room ahead 22-21, with Zaruba (13 points) and Wilhelm (9) doing all the scoring.
"It was kind of a rough first half," Wilhelm said. "We didn't play the way we should have."
The third quarter went back and forth until the late flurry.
A rebound shot by Nissen tied the game at 25, but a pair of free throws by Zaruba put Easton Valley back on top. Nissen scored on a press breaker to tie it again, but a 3-pointer by Jarod Lee put the River Hawks ahead again. Springville scored the next five points, including a 3-pointer by Pauly that put the Orioles ahead again. Then, after Zaruba hit a tying putback, Pauly hit from the free-throw line to give the Orioles their last lead at 34-32.
But, Easton Valley got its 600-fan cheering section from the near capacity crowd roaring with the flurry of 3s and finished off the win.
"It's pretty awesome with all our fans," Wilhelm said.
"We expected a tough game," Zaruba said. "We've always got great fans behind us. It was a good team effort. We showed a lot of hustle. Some of our shots weren't falling like we wanted to, but we kept with it and kept shooting."
EASTON VALLEY 60, SPRINGVILLE 49
SPRINGVILLE (22-2) — Brian Allsup 0 0-0 0, Sam Scriver 4 2-2 10, Peter Brooks 2 0-0 4, Greg Pauly 4 0-0 11, Jesse Robertson 0 0-0 0, Elias Nissen 8 2-2 18, Kolton Markley 3 0-0 6. Totals 21 4-4 49.
EASTON VALLEY (20-2) — Chase Zaruba 10 4-6 30, Blake Bormann 0 1-2 1, Craiton Andresen 2 1-4 5, Jarod Lee 1 0-0 3, Zach Peiffer 0 0-0 0, Logan Wilhelm 7 3-7 19, Brett Earles 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 9-19 60.
Springville 11 10 13 15 — 49
Easton Valley 10 12 19 19 — 60
3-point goals — Springville 3 (Pauly 3); Easton Valley 9 (Zaruba 6, Wilhelm 2, Lee). Total fouls — Springville 18, Easton Valley 12. Fouled out — Robertston, Nissen.