WEST BRANCH — They haven’t played an opponent in their class all season, but it doesn’t really matter. The Monticello Panthers are gonna be one tough out in the postseason.
Class 3A’s second-ranked team took over from the middle of the second quarter on and beat 2A 10th-ranked West Branch, 49-30, Friday night in what was essentially the River Valley Conference championship game.
Because of the pandemic, the league decided to count only division games this season and feat those two winners. Monticello (18-0) won the North, while West Branch (17-2) took the South with a last-second victory Thursday night over Mid-Prairie.
It just so happened the schedule had them meeting here at a perfect time.
“Sure,” Monti’s Justin Recker said, when asked if this win and unofficial overall RVC title meant anything. “This was our first goal on the list. Now we move on to the second goal: (substate), winning that to go to the state tournament.”
Monticello qualified for state last season for the first time in 60 years and returned all five starters. But the catch is the Panthers have moved up from 2A to 3A this season.
The River Valley Conference is primarily 2A, with Monti’s schedule also sprinkled with a couple of 1A opponents. That was the reason the Panthers got the second seed in their substate, behind fourth-ranked Solon.
No one is sure how this team will fare in 3A since it hasn’t faced anyone from it.
“We’re definitely using that as motivation,” said Recker, who had a game-high 18 points and 11 rebounds here. “Especially since we got the two seed in our (substate). We’re going to get after it next week. We’ve got a 3A team next week, we’re (perhaps) going to play Decorah. That’ll be a good preparation for us.”
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Since Monticello had a couple of scheduled games this season canceled, it is trying to put together an impromptu game next week to test it. Coach Tim Lambert said he believes this is the first time the always rugged RVC has had a team go through the entire season without a loss.
“We understand what we’re facing in 3A,” he said. “But I do think we’re a really solid club. We’ll just go out and play one at a time, play who’s in front of us, and see what happens.”
This was the 10th game in 13 days for West Branch, which went 20 days between games last month because of a COVID-19 pause. Making up missed games forced this crazy late-season schedule, and it appeared the Bears simply ran out of gas in this game.
West Branch led midway through the second quarter, 18-16, but went almost eight minutes without a point, which allowed Monticello to build a 29-18 lead midway through the third. Considering Monti’s strong man-to-man defense and deliberate nature offensively, that 11-point edge may as well have been a 31-point edge.
“I think our (tired) legs caught up to us,” said Coach Jason Kern. “Playing 10 games in 13 days and just having no time to prepare, we really didn’t get into any rhythm at all. We’re not using that as an excuse because Monticello is a heck of a team, is very well-coached. Defensively they are very hard to score on ... We just didn’t have anything left in the tank.”
Thomas Gould had nine points to lead WB before fouling out in the fourth. Luke Lambert added nine points for Monticello,
The teams combined for just eight turnovers, two by Monticello.
“It was our defense,” Tim Lambert said. “We had a couple of bad rotations, they hit back-to-back 3s there, I think. We had bad rotations on those. I just told the kids to lock in and do it right. Our defense has been really good all year. We’re first in defensive average in 3A by, like, 10 a game. They had 18 at half and 21 at the end of the third. It was a grinder. They’re good, obviously, and you just had to come in here and scrape and scrape. This was a good prep for (substate).”
MONTICELLO (49): Connor Lambert 2-6 0-0 5, Luke Lambert 3-9 1-2 9, Justin Recker 9-16 0-3 18, Ty Kehoe 1-2 2-5 4, Tate Petersen 2-7 2-5 8, Preston Ries 1-2 0-0 2, Caleb Sauser 0-0 0-0 0, Riley Manternach 0-0 0-0 0, Jasper Nietert 0-0 0-0 0, Grahm Schneiter 1-1 0-2 3. Totals 19-43 5-17 49.
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WEST BRANCH (30): Simon Palmer 1-6 0-0 2, Thomas Gould 4-8 1-5 9, Jeff Bowie 3-8 1-2 7, Gavin Hierseman 1-1 0-0 3, Holden Arnaman 2-4 1-2 6, Peyton Miller 0-6 0-0 0, Brady Knoop 0-0 0-0 0, Kelby Burger 1-1 0-0 3, Cael Fiederlein 0-0 0-0 0, Matt Westcott 0-0 0-0 0, Bryce Pickett 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-34 3-9 30.
Halftime — Monticello 24, West Branch 18. 3-point goals — Monticello 6-21 (C. Lambert 1-5, Recker 0-1, L. Lambert 2-6, Kehoe 0-1, Petersen 2-7, Schneiter 1-1), West Branch 3-12 (Palmer 0-1, Gould 0-2, Hierseman 0-1, Arnaman 1-3, Miller 0-4, Burger 1-1). Rebounds — Monticello 32 (Recker 11), West Branch 22 (Bowie 7). Total fouls — Monticello 9, West Branch 13. Fouled out — None. Turnovers — Monticello 2, West Branch 6.
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