DES MOINES — The Alburnett Pirates? Naw, they’re the Alburnett Gnats.
Opponents keep swatting at this group of pesky basketball buggers, but they won’t go away. They’re somehow and someway still playing.
For a state championship now. Izic Mackey’s putback just before the final buzzer lifted this never-say-die group to a 39-37 win over Remsen St. Mary’s in Wednesday afternoon’s Class 1A semifinals at Wells Fargo Arena.
It was Mackey, the 6-foot-5 senior center, who intercepted an interior feed with less than one second left to cement Monday’s one-point quarterfinal win over Sioux Central. Hunter Caves’ jumper with 13 seconds left provided the winning points.
Let’s back this up even further. Alburnett (20-5) won its substate final against WACO in overtime, its district final against Calamus-Wheatland in OT, after trailing by 18 points in the third quarter.
The season very, very easily could have been kaput two weeks ago. But it’s not, the school’s first-ever trip to state morphing into an incredible one.
“They won’t go away,” Coach Jeff Christopherson said. “Even if we’re down, they know they have it in them to come back. Just so proud of our guys.”
“We have a little stubbornness, and we don’t like to lose,” said Caves.
Caves was wearing a large bandage above his left eye in the postgame interview room, incurring a bad cut after bumping heads with a St. Mary’s player in the final minute. Oozing blood, Caves had to switch jerseys, taking his off and donning teammate’s Jordan Balderston’s.
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Medical personnel wrapped gauze around his entire head, yet he stepped up after a timeout and made two clutch free throws to give the Pirates a 37-34 lead. Blaine Harpenau’s corner 3-pointer tied the game for St. Mary’s (20-6), with Alburnett immediately calling timeout with 18.1 seconds to go.
Caves waited and eventually penetrated the lane on the right side, putting up a shot that missed. But Mackey was right there, reaching over and around everyone and gently placing the ball over the rim.
“I knew I had to crash the boards hard,” Mackey said. “Just miss or make, obviously. I could read the ball, it came off the front of the rim, I jumped as high as I could with all of my legs and got that board. I made sure it was going in ... Never had a shot like that in my life. Being a senior on the team, it was my time to shine. My time to step up.”
“I didn’t even see Izic shoot the ball,” said Caves, who was fighting underneath to recover his miss. “I just saw it go through the net and Izic celebrating. It was like ‘What just happened?’ It was an incredible feeling.”
Obviously with the score, both teams struggled to do much of anything offensively throughout. Alburnett led at halftime, 23-15, and after three quarters, 28-24.
Mackey had a game-high 19 points, with Caves adding 11. Christopherson touted the defensive job his team did, especially guard Jared Graubard, who held Spencer Schorg, the leading scorer for St. Mary’s, to just eight points, half his average.
So now this little old seventh-seeded engine that could gets the task of trying to take down two-time defending champ Grand View Christian. Alburnett will be a huge underdog.
But at this point ...
“So what?” Christopherson said. “We know Grand View Christian is a very good basketball team ... They are so athletic, they can shoot from the perimeter, they can slash the basket, they play above the rim. We have one guy who can get above the rim. We’re going to give this our best shot, and then it is what it is.”
AT WELLS FARGO ARENA
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REMSEN ST. MARY’S (37): Skyler Waldschmitt 2-7 0-0 5, Blaine Harpenau 5-8 1-2 13, Brayden Ricke 4-10 0-0 11, Spencer Schorg 2-7 3-4 8, Austin Jensen 0-2 0-0 0, Damen Brownmiller 0-1 0-0 0, Noah Schroeder 0-0 0-0 0, Brady Homan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-35 4-6 37.
ALBURNETT (39): Jared Graubard 2-4 0-0 4, Shane Neighbor 0-2 0-0 0, Izic Mackey 8-10 3-5 19, Austin Huber 1-2 0-0 3, Hunter Caves 3-12 5-6 11, Reed Stallman 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 14-32 10-13 39.
Halftime — Alburnett 23, St. Mary’s 15. 3-point goals — St. Mary’s 7-15 (Schorg 1-4, Harpenau 2-4, Ricke 3-5, Waldschmitt 1-2), Alburnett 1-6 (Graubard 0-2, Huber 1-2, Caves 0-2). Rebounds — St. Mary’s 22 (Jensen 6), Alburnett 19 (Mackey, Caves 5). Assists — St. Mary’s 7 (Schorg 3), Alburnett 6 (Caves 3). Turnovers — St. Mary’s 12, Alburnett 10.
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