By Zach James Herald Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — DES MOINES — Party like it’s 1981.
For the first time in 33 years, the Central DeWitt Sabers are going to be playing in the state championship game following its 56-54 win over defending champion Waverly-Shell Rock Thursday night.
The Sabers held suit for most of the game with the exception of the Go-Hawks having a small lead in the final minutes of the first quarter.
DeWitt jumped out to a quick 9-4 lead thanks to three baskets near the paint bookended by a 3-pointer from McClain Steffens.
Waverly-Shell Rock caught up by sinking free throws, which the score became 15-13 in favor of the Go-Hawks at the end of the first quarter.
Marty Green opened up the scoring for the Sabers in the second quarter off of a fastbreak layup. There were lots of opportunities for the transition offense to burst out.
The Go-Hawks only committed two turnovers in their win on Tuesday, but the Sabers forced seven turnovers in the first half, and forced 12 overall on W-SR. The Sabers, on the other hand, committed 14 turnovers on Thursday, just six more than on Tuesday.
DeWitt also posted a 10-0 late second quarter run that was fueled by buckets from Kyle Bauer, Christian Wright and Lucas Daniels.
“Tonight, it was a full team effort,” Bauer said. “We had everyone stepping up at the perfect time, and that’s what this game is all about.”
On Tuesday night, Bauer dropped 32 points, but still credited his teammates. He had more of a reason to on Thursday as all eight Sabers who saw playing time scored.
“I think tonight was more of a typical night for us,” Sabers coach Jeff Frick said. “We’ve had guys every single game step up for us, and tonight exemplified that.”
Frick thought the turning point was the adjustment that the Sabers made switching from man-to-man defense to a box-and-1 zone in the second half.
“Their penetration really gave us some problems, so we switched to zone, which we aren’t a zone team,” Frick said. “I thought our guys did a great job maintaining their discipline in the zone.”
That discipline allowed just 31 points on the Go-Hawks in the second half despite allowing a couple late deep 3-pointers when the Sabres had the game in hand.
The largest led for the Sabers in the third quarter grew to nine with 4:23 remaining in the quarter, and despite the two-point win, DeWitt never trailed in the second half. The Sabers started the third the same way they closed the second — on another momentous 12-3 run.
One of the big names circled on the scouting report for the Sabers was Go-Hawks guard Jake Velky, who scored 17 points, but Frick believed the his team followed the scouting report.
“He’s just so talented and gifted with what he’s able to do,” Frick said. “He was a challenge, but we did well on him.”
“He’s a tough player to guard,” Bauer said. “You gotta give credit to McClain and Marty, everybody, really; for us to slow him down a little bit, that’s big and really all we needed to do.”
While the guards were assigned to Velky, the big boys had the challenge to Sean Westendorf, the team’s second leading scorer standing at 6-foot-3.
“They did a nice job,” Bauer said. “They’re strong; they’ve developed so much this year, and that’s what the program needs on a state championship run.
Westendorf scored a game-high 19 points, but he had to get most of those from outside the paint. Westendorf, who can be known for sinking a 3-pointer every now and then, sunk five on the Sabers on Thursday.
Those 3-pointers are what kept the Go-Hawks from avoiding a blowout.
W-SR shot 10-for-20 from deep while DeWitt went 3 of 8. The Go-Hawks sank more overall field goals than the Sabers, 20-18.
The differences in the game came down low offensive and defensively for DeWitt.
On the offensive side, the Sabers scored 24 points in the paint while the Go-Hawks scored just 10. DeWitt dominated the glass 26-12.
“Winning the rebounding battle was our number one goal,” Frick said. “I knew the battle of the boards was going to be key tonight, and it was.”
The Sabers will play in the Class 3A championship Saturday night in Des Moines against Dubuque Wahlert.
CENTRAL DEWITT 56, WAVERLY-SHELL ROCK 54
DEWITT (23-3) — McClain Steffens 2 4-4 10, Trevor Green 2 3-4 8, Kyle Bauer 4 3-5 11, Christian Wright 3 3-4 9, Jordan Cornelius 1 2-2 4, Ryan Burke 1 1-1 3, Marty Green 2 0-0 4, Lucas Daniels 3 1-2 7. Totals 18 17-22 56.
WAVERLY-SHELL ROCK (22-4) — Dan Stensland 3 0-0 7, Jake Velky 5 3-3 17, Colin Wiltse 1 0-0 2, Drew Demuth 0 0-0 0, Sean Westendorf 7 0-0 19, Camry Moore 2 0-0 4, Christian Mosley 0 0-0 0, Austin Phyfe 2 1-1 5. Totals 20 4-4 54.
DeWitt 13 14 15 14 — 56
W-SR 15 9 11 19 — 54
3-point goals — DeWitt 3 (Steffens 2, T. Green); W-SR 10 (Westendorf 5, Velky 4, Stensland). Total fouls — DeWitt 13, W-SR 19. Fouled out — None.