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DES MOINES — You want to make it to the Class 3A state championship game, get into a predominantly 4A conference.
Look how it has worked for Sergeant Bluff-Luton. The Warriors are making their first trip to The Well a memorable one, knocking West Delaware out, 72-59, Thursday night in the 3A semifinals.
SB-L came here with a so-so record of 15-9 and a No. 6 seed, though keep in mind it lost six games by three points or less. And it plays in the Missouri River Conference, a league with seven teams, five of which are in 4A.
That regular-season competition does wonders.
Just ask Cedar Rapids Xavier (15-11), which happens to be SB-L’s finals opponent Saturday night. The Saints, of course, are one of two 3A schools in the 4A-heavy Mississippi Valley Conference.
Throw Dubuque Wahlert in there, and it’s guaranteed now that the last four 3A champs will come from essentially 4A leagues.
“We went through a lot of battles with a lot of good teams,” SB-L Coach Adam Vander Schaaf. “I think that’s helped us down here.”
Sergeant Bluff-Luton upset third-seeded Pella in Tuesday night’s quarterfinals. It is a legit team, not overly big, other than beefy 6-foot-5 forward Jackson Wright, but quick and very solid at moving the ball and pushing pace.
Guard Chris Kroll was the absolute star of this game, finishing with 32 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. He was 3 of 4 from 3-point range and 13 of 15 at the free-throw line.
“Obviously it’s a tough one,” said West Delaware Coach Matt Uthoff. “A lot of credit to Sergeant Bluff. Chris Kroll was unbelievable. They did some great things to challenge us defensively early. We were able to make some adjustments and hang in there. We’d cut it to two, cut it to five, but we just couldn’t make that timely shot or that timely stop.”
This was a tough pill to swallow for West Delaware (25-1), which came into this game the last remaining undefeated team in the state. North Linn and Remsen St. Mary’s were the others in this tournament, but they were both beaten in separate 1A semifinal games Thursday.
Other than 2-0, the Hawks never led in this game. Sergeant Bluff-Luton had a 15-10 edge after a quarter and 38-28 at the break.
A late second-quarter run gave SB-L its 10-point halftime cushion. West Delaware had climbed within three points in the final two minutes, but SB-L scored the quarter’s final seven points, including a Kroll jumper at the buzzer.
“That kind of swung the momentum back in their favor,” said WD’s John Nagel, who had 19 points. “But that didn’t really get us down. We kept fighting. Like Coach said, it just wasn’t our night tonight. Credit goes to SB-L because they just played good.
Derek Krogmann led West Delaware with 23 points and 14 rebounds.
“I felt like their guards were a lot better than I expected them to be,” Krogmann said. “They were hitting everything they threw up there, it seemed.”
Sergeant Bluff-Luton shot 56 percent for the game, 58 percent in the first half.
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