DES MOINES — This was the 549th game in Jeff Christopherson’s 25-year head coaching career at Alburnett High School. You don’t even need to ask where exactly it ranks.
“This one is definitely the best,” Christopherson said, with a smile.
Well, maybe until Wednesday. They just seem to be increasingly getting better and better for the coach and his unheralded band of Pirates.
Hunter Caves banked in a lane jumper with 12.9 seconds left, and Izic Mackey intercepted a pass in the lane just before the buzzer as Alburnett upset No. 3 Sioux Central, 55-54, Monday afternoon in a thrilling Class 1A state basketball tournament quarterfinal at Wells Fargo Arena.
The first trip to state has just been extended another two games. The seventh-seeded Pirates (19-5) meet sixth-seeded Remsen St. Mary’s (20-6) in a 1A semifinal Wednesday afternoon at 3:45.
“I just can’t tell you what it means,” Christopherson said. “It’s just a tremendous feeling. All 12 guys on our team have just been work-a-holics. They have come to practice focused. Before the game, I felt that we were loose, we were focused, we knew what we were supposed to do.”
Not sure Christopherson told them to get off to a 9-0 lead, but that’s what happened. Mackey had a turnaround jumper, and an and-one turnaround jumper, Jared Graubard and Caves transition buckets.
Alburnett held a 25-18 halftime edge, but second-seeded Sioux Central (22-3), also making its initial state tournament appearance, had an immediate third-quarter push to take the lead for the first time. The teams jostled back and forth the rest of the way.
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Alburnett played overtime games in its district and substate finals, so it expected SC’s run. It’s just the way the postseason has gone.
“Considering what we’ve seen the last couple of games with us ...,” said Alburnett’s Austin Huber, who was huge with 17 points, including five 3-pointers. “We knew they didn’t make a lot of shots in the first half. Their kids came out fired up in the second half.”
A driving hoop and two free throws by Hunter Decker gave Sioux Central a 52-51 lead with 1:38 remaining, Caves countered with a driving deuce, with Decker re-countering with a deft feed inside for a Ben Hargens layup with 53 seconds to go for a 54-53 SC edge. But Decker missed a one-and-one free-throw attempt at 30.9, setting up Caves’ heroics.
He took a high screen from Mackey, got to the lane and fired. The bank was open.
“I was looking to get to the hole,” he said. “I’ve got to get to the hole, that’s what my role is. I glanced back to see if (Mackey) was open. Right when I was in mid-air, I looked back to see if Izic or Shane (Neighbor) was open. They weren’t so, floater. The floater’s got to go.”
It did. After multiple timeouts, Decker took an inbounds pass, tried to create something but was cut off by Graubard, who did a great job defensively on him the entire game.
Eventually the ball got to Logan Grote, who drove, pulled up and attempted a lob pass underneath to Jake Hanson.
“Coach knew what they were doing,” Mackey said. “We knew they were looking for (Decker) for some type of shot. Jared shut him down, didn’t let him get that shot. They were in desperation mode, drove the lane looking for the big guys down low. I read that.”
Caves finished with a game-high 19 points for Alburnett, with Mackey adding 12. Decker and Grote had 15 for Sioux Central.
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“We told ourselves every game is going to be close, every game is going to be a fight,” Mackey said. “There are going to be ups and downs in the game. We’ve just got to stay focused, play our game. Our motto has been ‘defense’ this year. We’ve been preaching defense. If we were on track to playing that good defense, we were going to have success.”
“It’s just awesome right now,” Christopherson said. “Can’t wait to get upstairs and celebrate with our purple nation. We get to play two more, and we’re happy about that.”
AT WELLS FARGO ARENA
ALBURNETT (55): Jared Graubard 1-5 0-0 2, Shane Neighbor 1-2 1-2 3, Izic Mackey 4-7 4-6 12, Austin Huber 5-8 2-3 17, Hunter Caves 5-15 9-10 19, Luke Neighbor 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Stallman 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 16-37 18-23 55.
SIOUX CENTRAL (54): Prestan Samson 5-7 0-1 10, Logan Grote 7-12 0-0 15, Jake Hanson 0-3 4-4 4, Blake Cavanaugh 1-6 2-2 4, Hunter Decker 6-14 2-4 15, Caleb Rock 0-0 0-0 0, Ben Hargens 3-3 0-1 6. Totals 22-45 8-12 54.
Halftime — Alburnett 25, Sioux Central 18. 3-point goals — Alburnett 5-14 (Graubard 0-4, Huber 5-7, Caves 0-3), Sioux Central 2-13 (Cavanaugh 0-2, Decker 1-6, Samson 0-1, Grote 1-3, Hanson 0-1). Rebounds — Alburnett 28 (Mackey, Caves 8), Sioux Central 23 (Samson 5). Total fouls — Alburnett 16, Sioux Central 16. Fouled out — Samson. Assists — Alburnett 10 (Mackey 4), Sioux Central 8 (Grote 4). Turnovers — Alburnett 15, Sioux Central 10.
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