By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — IOWA CITY — Watching the final minutes of a game from the bench is nothing new for the starters on the Easton Valley boys basketball team.
But they never expected to find themselves there during the substate final game. Still. there they were – Chase Zaruba, Logan Wilhelm, Craiton Andresen, Jarod Lee and Blake Bormann – smiling and laughing, waiting for the celebration to begin as the reserves finished off the River Hawks' 55-33 victory against Danville on Saturday night at Iowa City West High School.
“I was kind of in shock when I sat down with two minutes left, realizing we were going to win and we were going to go to Des Moines,” Zaruba said.
“It's nice to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy that we're going to state,” Wilhelm said.
In the first year of the Easton Valley consolidation of the former Preston and East Central school districts, the River Hawks are headed to the Iowa Class 1A state tournament. Because three substate finals were postponed by Saturday's winter storm, the River Hawks must wait to learn whom they will play and at what time a week from today at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“This is the greatest feeling I've ever had in my life,” Bormann said. “Just having us all do this together makes it even greater.
“Being the first year of Easton Valley, it makes it even more huge.”
The River Hawks owed the anticlimactic final minutes to a 19-2 run after Danville crept within four points early in the second half, the closest the Bears got after Easton Valley scored the game's first eight points. It came two days after a 9-0 closing run in the third changed the momentum during their district championship win against Springville.
“The last part of the season, that's just the way we've been,” Easton Valley coach Dan Beck said. “Our seniors are leaders; they're just such competitors. They find a way then to come back and come through. I know I've never had a team quite like this.
“One of the good things about them – I'm not going to tell you the bad – the second half of the season, sometimes they just will themselves to get through tough spots.”
While the lead never was in jeopardy, the Bears made the River Hawks sweat a bit early in the third quarter. A three-point play by Mason Speer (13 points) and a 3-point basket by Kolton Jackson (10) trimmed a 23-15 halftime lead to 25-21 in the opening minutes of the third quarter. After a dunk in transition by Wilhelm (14 points), Danville got within four once more at 27-23 on a rebound follow shot by Jackson.
But, just as he had done in the first few minutes of the game, Lee made a huge contribution. His third 3-point basket of the game – this one from the left corner with 5:10 remaining – pushed the lead to 30-23 and kicked off the decisive 19-2 run.
“Jarod Lee stepped up and hit some good shots,” said Zaruba, who led Easton Valley with 15 points. “That was big; I was glad to see him step up tonight.”
Beck said: “That was one of the things we were talking about yesterday in practice when we were going over stuff. I told Jarod, he's got to shoot more – he's a great shooter – he's got to shoot more, look for his shot more. And he certainly did tonight.”
Danville (21-4) got within 32-25 with 3:46 left, then didn't score again until the 4:39 mark of the fourth quarter. By then, Easton Valley had built a 46-25 edge. Lee (14 points) hit a pair of 3-pointers in the run, Wilhelm (14) also had six points and Bormann added four.
“I think we decided, 'Hey, we've got to work a little harder. We can't let them get the lead. Let's stay ahead and keep working,' ” Wilhelm said.
Their work on the defensive end was the difference.
“We played great defense, great defense,” Beck said. “They're a fantastic offensive team, and our defense was great.”
Danville entered the game averaging 74.5 points a game. The Bears had scored 80 or more points in nine games, averaged almost 10 3-point baskets a game, were held below 60 points just twice and had a previous season low of 57.
“That's a high-powered offense,” Andresen said. “Defensively, we covered all the shooters really well. We kept good track and boxed out real well and caused some turnovers. That led to some good offense.”
Danville's gaudy statistics didn't worry Beck.
“I don't want to sound cocky, but we thought we could take away pretty much everything because the second half the other night against Springville, we were unbelievable covering and they've got a great 6-6 player inside, maybe a first- or second-team all-stater,” he said. “These guys are so perimeter oriented … .
“I gave them a challenge because I tried to call guys in their league and nobody would give me anything other than to say, 'Coach, there's no way you can play them zone; you've got to play them man.' So I told our kids, 'We're going to prove to every coach in their league we can play them zone if we want to play them zone. It was a challenge, and I thought our kids really hustled their tails off.”
As it did Thursday in its district championship win against Springville, Easton Valley raced to an early lead. This time, though, the River Hawks never surrendered their advantage. All the River Hawks got involved, too.
“You can see in our practices, it's almost like there's no defense because everybody can shoot,” Andresen said. “It doesn't always translate into games. Jarod came and hit one, Blake hit (too). Jarod hit three. Chase and Logan were both firing, so that definitely helps.”
Just 16 seconds into the game, Zaruba took a pass from Wilhelm and made a reverse layup for the opening points. Lee added a 3-point basket 33 seconds later, Zaruba made 1 of 2 free throws and the lead was 6-0 just 1:15 into the game.
“(Beck) was telling me to focus and stay on the center and follow through and I'll knock them down,” Lee said. “I kind of saw it and built up my confidence and kept shooting.”
Andresen scored on a layup off an inbounds pass to make it 8-0, and when Lee added another 3 from the left corner with 5:07 left, the River Hawks led 11-2 and were well on the way to the kind of win that would allow the five starters to enjoy the final minutes watching from the bench and begin thinking about their trip to the state tournament.
EASTON VALLEY 55, DANVILLE 33
DANVILLE — Kole Perkins 0 1-2 1, Mason Speer 4 3-3 13, Dillon Sanchez 1 0-0 2, Mason Lorber 0 0-0 0, Shae Sells 0 0-0 0, Bryton Rice 0 0-0 0, Josh Deggendorf 0 0-1 0, Dylan Criswell 0 0-0 0, Alex Felland 0 0-0 0, Kolton Jackson 4 0-0 10, Trevor Elliott 0 0-0 0, Connor Hoelzen 2 0-0 5, Kaleb Kaeffner 0 0-0 0, Mitch Martin 0 0-0 0, Hunter Peebler 1 0-0 2. Totals 12 4-6 33.
EASTON VALLEY (21-2) — Chase Zaruba 4 6-10 15, Cam Larson 0 0-0 0, Blake Bormann 1 4-5 7, Craiton Andresen 1 1-7 3, Jarod Lee 5 0-0 14, Zach Peiffer 0 0-0 0, Brian Willey 0 0-0 0, Logan Wilhelm 4 6-6 14, Blaine Volquardsen 0 0-0 0, Sean Lange 0 0-0 0, Marshall Driscoll 0 0-0 0, Landyn Voss 0 0-0 0, Vaughn Behn 0 0-0 0, Brett Earles 1 0-1 2, Colin Marburger 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 17-29 55.
Danville 7 8 10 8 — 33
Easton Valley 17 6 16 16 — 55
3-point goals – Danville 5 (Speer 2, Jackson 2, Hoelzen); Easton Valley 6 (Lee 4, Zaruba, Bormann). Total fouls – Danville 22, Easton Valley 13. Fouled out – Deggendorf.