By Zach James Herald Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — All the DeWitt Sabers wanted to talk about after their 56-43 win over Maquoketa on Thursday was defense, and rightfully so.
It was a close game for three-plus quarters as each team seemed to trade baskets or make a stop in succession.
There was one play in particular that gave the Sabers rapid momentum, and it came in the fourth quarter when Lucas Daniels made a second-chance basket after a missed free throw.
“I knew (the free throw) was short right off the bat,” Daniels said. “We were trying to separate ourselves at that moment, and it gave us a four-point game, so I think it was the turning point.”
Daniels scored nine points for the Sabers, while their leading scorer was Christian Wright with 14 points, thanks to four field goals and 5-for-6 shooting from the free-throw line.
Kyle Bauer scored 13 points while McClain Steffens posted 11 points in the win.
DeWitt’s paint game was a little bleak in the first half, but the Sabers knew that’s where they had to get most of their points in order to clinch the title of Class 3A-District 9.
“Attacking the rim always ends up being a good thing,” Steffens said. “We’re a pretty good free-throw shooting team, so that’s what we like to do.”
DeWitt coach Jeff Frick said getting to the basket was the team’s biggest adjustment at halftime.
“That was the key to get it inside more,” Frick said. “We were settling for too many outside jump shots.”
DeWitt opened the second half on a 6-1 run that lasted nearly half of the third quarter. While the Sabers were figuring out that the paint was open, the Cardinals failed to get a field goal and turn the ball over four times in that stretch. Maquoketa did have a one-point lead at halftime, however.
“DeWitt is a very good team, and they’ll take advantage of any opportunities that you miss,” Cardinals coach Chad Specht said. “We had several opportunities to stop a run, and could not capitalize on it, and credit to the Sabers, they did.
“They did a very good job of not letting us get into any flow and keeping everything away from Trent (Bollman),” Specht said. “Offensively, we have struggled at times, and nobody else steps us; that’s where we’re going to find problems.”
Bollman had a game-high 17 points.
DeWitt also won the free-throw battle — making 24 of 33 while the Cardinals were less frequent visitors at the line, going 6-for-9.
Despite the Sabers winning by 13 in Yourd Gym on Thursday, the two battles between the Cardinals and DeWitt have been electric as a rivalry should be.
DeWitt won both meetings, including winning on a buzzer-beater on Feb. 7.
“We knew it was going to be a battle all night,” Frick said. “This team doesn’t lack confidence; we’ve been tested all season with those close games. Against those guys, you never know.
“We have an extremely tough conference, and this team is always focused,” Frick said.
DeWitt has to go up against another WaMaC foe in order to be one of the eight teams to make it to the state tournament in Des Moines: Benton Community.
“We’re ready to face anyone,” Steffens said. “It doesn’t matter to us; we have to give 110 percent against whoever we play.”
Benton and DeWitt met in the regular season in early December.
The Sabers won that game on Dec. 6 at home 54-52.
“You have to throw that game out,” Frick said. “They’re a completely different team and so are we, but it’ll be an extremely tough.”
While the Sabers are 32 minutes away from the state tournament, Maquoketa (9-14) is forced to reflect on its season now that it’s over.
“I’ve never been around a group of kids who are so resilient,” Specht said. “We kept believing. Every day they came, ready to play. We had five or six games where we lost by one or two, and going into the tournament, we thought that we could compete with anyone in the tournament.”
Central DeWitt plays Benton at 7 p.m. Monday at Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
CENTRAL DEWITT 56, MAQUOKETA 43
MAQUOKETA (9-14) — Josh Dietzel 1 0-0 2, Carter River 0 0-0 0, Brian Specht 0 0-0 0, Ben Strathman 1 0-0 2, Trent Bollman 7 1-5 17, Jeb Miller 0 0-0 0, Cory Wirth 3 6-8 12, Lyndon Aunan 1 0-0 2, Alex Gilmore 0 0-0 0, Jon Ernst 4 0-0 8. Totals 17 6-9 43.
CENTRAL DEWITT (20-3) — McClain Steffens 2 7-8 11, Trevor Green 1 0-0 2, Kyle Bauer 3 6-7 13, Ryan Burke 1 0-2 2, Christian Wright 4 5-6 14, Martin Green 1 0-0 3, Jordan Cornelius 1 0-0 2, Lucas Daniels 2 5-9 9. Totals 15 24-33 56.
Maquoketa 9 12 8 14 — 43
C. DeWitt 9 11 13 23 — 56
3-point goals — Maquoketa 3 (Bollman 3), Central DeWitt 2 (Bauer, Wright). Total fouls — Maquoketa 25, Central DeWitt 17. Fouled out — Aunan, Strathman.