NORTH LIBERTY — Alburnett boys’ basketball coach Jeff Christopherson gave his team a little history lesson and a challenge before Saturday’s night’s Class 1A Substate 4 final against WACO.
“We had a little shootaround today in our gym,” he said. “I said, ‘Gentlemen, there’s one banner missing, one for boys’ basketball.’”
Well, there will be one hanging soon, but it didn’t get earned without some anxious moments.
The Pirates stormed to a 17-point lead early in the third quarter, only to see the Warriors storm back and take a brief lead. Alburnett survived a final WACO shot that would have won the game in regulation, then took control in overtime to post a 60-54 win in an entertaining game at Iowa City Liberty High School.
Now 18-5, the Pirates will open state play March 4 against an opponent and time to be determined at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. WACO closes its season at 17-5.
As their big lead evaporated, the Pirates stuck to their plan.
“We really didn’t change anything,” Christopherson said. “We just stayed the course, doing the things we’ve been preaching, run the offense, take care of the basketball and play great defense.”
A basket from sophomore Hunter Caves gave the Pirates a 40-23 lead with 5:52 left in the third quarter. WACO took a timeout and it paid big dividends. The Warriors went on a 16-0 run to pull within one early in the fourth quarter and eventually took the lead, 45-44, on a lay-in from Colton Horak with 3:32 remaining.
Alburnett regained the lead on a 3-point basket from Austin Huber and when WACO missed on its next trip, appeared to once again have control. However, Horak made a steal and drove to tie the game with 1:47 left. After a Pirate miss, WACO held the ball for more than a minute but a contested hook in the lane from Nik Coble was off, sending the game to overtime.
“We just played good, solid defense,” said Pirate senior Izic Mackey, who finished with 17 points. “In overtime, we just took a deep breath and played our game.”
In the extra session, Alburnett grabbed a quick lead, then salted the game away from the foul line. For the game, the Pirates hit 18 of 19 from the stripe, including 9 of 10 in overtime.
Caves led the winners with a game-high 23 points. Senior Jared Graubard added 10. Horak led WACO with 19 points before fouling out in overtime. Coble had 13 and Gabe Reichenbach chipped in with 12.
Being part of the first Alburnett boys’ basketball team to ever make state wasn’t lost on Mackey.
“It means everything that we were able to do this,” he said. “Coach told us about all the people who have played Alburnett basketball and never got to this position. We did it for all of those who have graduated before us.”
AT NORTH LIBERTY
WACO (54): Drew Kissell 3 1-2 7, Elijah McGohan 1 0-0 3, Colton Horak 9 1-2 19, Nik Coble 5 1-4 13, Gabe Reichenbach 5 0-0 12, Will Edeker 0 0-0 0, Dalton Diers 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 3-8 54.
ALBURNETT (60): Jared Graubard 3 2-2 10, Izic Mackey 6 5-5 17, Austin Huber 2 0-0 6, Hunter Caves 5 11-12 23, Shane Neighbor 2 0-0 4, Luke Neighbor 0 0-0 0, Reed Stallman 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 18-19 60.
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Halftime - Alburnett 29, WACO 20. End of regulation: Alburnett 47, WACO 47. 3-point goals: WACO 5 (Coble 2, Reichenback 2, McGohan) Alburnett 6 (Graubard 2, Huber 2, Caves 2. Total fouls: Alburnett 11, WACO 18. Fouled out: Kissel, Horak. Technical fouls: none.