DES MOINES — When you’ve got a bunch of babies wearing state tournament diapers, you lean on the older guys to be the diaper changers, if you will.
Austin Miller and Austin Hilmer were North Linn’s diaper changers Monday afternoon.
The only experienced dudes from last year’s championship team scored every point for their team in the second half and coaxed it past West Sioux, 56-51, in a Class 2A quarterfinal thriller at Wells Fargo Arena.
“We’re trying to take the pressure off the young guys who haven’t been here,” said Austin Hilmer. “I’d say that’s a stat you probably wouldn’t say is a good thing, but I think that gets their feet wet now, and they’ll be good the next game. They’ll come out and play and get their points. I think it’s good.”
Hilmer is one of four sophomore starters for North Linn and finished with 19 points. He made six free throws in the final 33 seconds as the Lynx (25-0) picked up their 51st consecutive victory.
North Linn is 106-2 in its last 108 games and in the state semifinals a fourth consecutive year: two in 1A and two in 2A. The semifinal opponent Wednesday afternoon at 3:45 is No. 1-ranked Treynor (25-1).
“Really proud of the kids,” said Co-Coach Mike Hilmer. “Not many teams can come down here with four sophomores and come out a winner. We did it tonight against some really good players.”
Miller is the lone returning starter from last season and the only senior on this team who gets much important playing time. His plethora of inside moves, all coming at just 6-foot-2, allowed North Linn to comeback from a five-point fourth-quarter deficit.
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His two free throws with 42.6 left put the Lynx up for good, 50-48. Miller had 24 points and 13 rebounds in the game, including 20 points in the second half.
Cade Haughenbury (8) and Kaleb Kurt (5) were the only other players to score for North Linn, all 13 of their points coming in the first half, obviously.
“The coaches just told me I had to work harder if I wanted to score my points,” Miller said. “It just finally came around.”
Hilmer’s drive just before the horn gave North Linn a 26-25 halftime lead. He and Miller had NL’s final four points of the first half, meaning they combined for their team’s final 34 points of the game.
Bryce Coppock moved West Sioux (22-3) ahead by one after three quarters and up by five two minutes into the fourth on his own little personal 8-0 run. He and Kade Lynott finished with 12 points apiece to pace the Falcons.
Because of West Sioux’s athleticism (it also had Iowa State football quarterback recruit Hunter Dekkers), North Linn mostly eschewed its trademark pressure defense, though it put it back on in the final minute and forced a pair of crucial turnovers.
These teams came in leading the state in scoring average at 85.2 (North Linn) and 82.0 (West Sioux), but this was mostly a half-court game.
“We tried to control the pace a little bit, keep it from going up and down and giving up easy buckets,” Austin Hilmer said. “At the end, it was close, and we just took our chances (with the press). That really helped us out there.”
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“We were a little bit out-manned physically there,” Mike Hilmer said. “Cade Haughenbury and Kaleb Kurt sure came up big there defensively and with rebounding and made some big baskets for us early. Very fortunate to have kids who are willing to fulfill their roles and step up when we need them.”
North Linn 56, West Sioux 51
AT DES MOINES
WEST SIOUX (51): Kade Lynott 6-9 0-0 12, Baxter Walsh 4-11 0-1 11, Hunter Dekkers 3-12 1-2 8, Bryce Coppock 4-6 4-5 12, Mason Coppock 3-8 1-2 8, Levi Koopmans 0-0 0-0 0, Blake Van Ballegooyen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-46 6-10 51.
NORTH LINN (56): Austin Miller 9-13 6-7 24, Cade Haughenbury 4-5 0-0 8, Gunner Vanourney 0-3 0-0 0, Dylan Kurt 0-6 0-0 0, Austin Hilmer 6-17 6-8 19, Parker Bechen 0-0 0-0 0, Kaleb Kurt 2-3 0-0 5.
Halftime — North Linn 26, West Sioux 25. 3-point goals — West Sioux 5-23 (M. Coppock 1-6, B. Coppock 0-1, Dekkers 1-6, Lynott 0-1, Walsh 3-9), North Linn 2-14 (Vanourney 0-3, D. Kurt 0-4, Hilmer 1-6, K. Kurt 1-1). Rebounds — West Sioux 26 (Lynott 6), North Linn 28 (Miller 13). Total fouls — West Sioux 14, North Linn 12. Fouled out — B. Coppock. Assists — West Sioux 9 (Dekkers 6), North Linn 4 (Miller 2). Turnovers — West Sioux 14, North Linn 12.
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