CEDAR RAPIDS — They’re going to Des Moines next week with a goal. Play three games.
Who wants to bet against the Marion Indians at this point?
You shouldn’t, not after a 41-38 win Monday night over second-ranked Maquoketa in a tense Class 3A substate final at the U.S. Cellular Center.
It’s not just that Marion (16-5) is back in the state tournament for a second straight year, it’s that its path to get there this time was so difficult, to say the least. You beat a good Anamosa team, a Dubuque Wahlert team that plays in the 4A Mississippi Valley Conference and then Maquoketa for the second time ... you deserve some extended time at The Well.
That’s the plan.
“This one means a little more,” said Marion’s Connor Whalen. “We had to work a little harder this year, I think. We had a tough road. We’re going to Des Moines for more than one game this year.”
Speaking of a tough road, Marion had it here in spades, trailing by seven with three minutes left, after Maquoketa star A.J. Becker hit huge back-to-back 3-pointers. That’s when the Indians ratcheted up the defensive pressure, forced turnovers, and fed Trevor Paulsen offensively inside.
Paulsen scored eight of his 10 points down the stretch, all from the free-throw line. His free throw with 53.3 seconds left gave Marion a 37-36 lead it never relinquished.
“We knew we had to make a run then,” Paulsen said. “Becker got two 3s. We started pressuring them up top, I think Jaffer (Murphy) and Connor both got steals and made big plays for us. That was key down the stretch. We’re used to (close games), and we didn’t panic. Which was nice.”
“When A.J. hit back-to-back 3s, that gave me a little bit of a doubt,” said Marion Coach Mike Manderscheid. “But our kids stuck with it, and they’ve done that all year long. We have been in the pressure cooker the entire year. Our kids find ways to make plays, that’s the bottom line. And they did again tonight.”
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Will Henricksen knocked home a pair of free throws with 34.9 seconds left for a 39-36 lead. Maquoketa (20-3) missed a shot on the ensuing possession, but got the offensive rebound, with Paulsen eventually fouling Becker on a deep 3 at the top of the circle with 5.2 left.
An 81-percent shooter, Becker nailed the first two free throws, with Manderscheid calling timeout, not so much to ice Becker, but to call an offensive play if he made the third. He didn’t.
Paulsen rebounded, was immediately fouled and clutched up again with two free throws. Macklin Shanahan’s tying trey attempt out top airballed, and that was that.
“In the back of my mind, I thought he would make all three,” Paulsen said. “I was hoping he’d miss one. He did, and we got the rebound, thank god.”
“There isn’t a kid I don’t want to go get a rebound more, or be at the line, other than Trevor,” Manderscheid said. “He’s got the stones to step up when he needs to.”
Becker finished with 13 points for Maquoketa, which was seeking its first state tourney appearance since 1987. The Cardinals’ three losses this season were to Dyersville Beckman by five points and twice to Marion by a combined nine.
“Maquoketa is a heck of a team,” Manderscheid said. “Both of us probably deserve to be down there. Tip your hat to our kids. This group and last year’s group are similar in that they don’t give up. These guys keep fighting all game long.”
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MARION (41): Mason Rahe 2-6 1-1 5, Trevor Paulsen 1-4 8-10 10, Will Henricksen 3-13 2-4 9, Jaffer Murphy 3-8 0-0 6, Matthew Brase 0-1 0-0 0, Connor Whalen 4-4 3-6 11, Austin Prier 0-0 0-0 0, Owen Puk 0-0 0-0 0, Gage Franck 0-6 0-0 0. Totals 13-42 14-21 41.
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MAQUOKETA (38): Macklin Shanahan 4-11 0-0 9, Caiden Atienza 1-2 4-7 6, Connor Becker 2-10 2-2 6, Kane Kopp 0-3 2-2 2, A.J. Becker 4-8 2-3 13, Nathan Watters 1-1 0-0 2, Nicholas Ehlinger 0-0 0-0 0, Clayton Widel 0-0 0-0 0, Kannon Coakley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-35 10-14 38.
Halftime — Maquoketa 19, Marion 18. 3-point goals — Marion 1-15 (Rahe 0-3, Henricksen 1-6, Murphy 0-3, Brase 0-1, Franck 0-2), Maquoketa 4-13 (Shanahan 1-4, C. Becker 0-2, Kopp 0-2, A. Becker 3-5). Rebounds — Marion 23 (Paulsen 11), Maquoketa 35 (Shanahan 12). Total fouls — Marion 12, Maquoketa 14. Fouled out — Atienza. Turnovers — Marion 4, Maquoketa 16.
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