WEST BRANCH — Heck, yes, this meant something. You bet it did.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s just mid-January, and Tuesday night’s 56-54 win over Class 2A seventh-ranked Iowa City Regina wasn’t make or break for the West Branch boys’ basketball team. There are a lot of games and a postseason left to play.
But considering some of the peripherals here ...
“Huge for us,” Coach Jason Kern said. “Our kids, they took us out in football, beat us twice (in basketball) last year. It was just a little mental barrier we needed to overcome, and we overcame it.”
Oh, yeah, football. Regina handed West Branch its only loss of the season in the Class 1A playoff quarterfinals back in November.
A lot of these guys from both schools double-dip in football and basketball.
“The way they knocked us out of the playoffs, that was definitely not a loss we expected to take,” said West Branch center Jeff Bowie, an all-state lineman on the gridiron. “It stunned us a little bit more than we expected it to. I feel like that came out a little bit tonight, when you see all the football guys out there getting after it. It helped us in the long run, I guess, in basketball. But it definitely hurt during football.”
The 6-foot-5 Bowie was “the man” on the interior for West Branch (9-1, 8-1 in the River Valley Conference South Division). He finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds, at times unstoppable on the low block.
His two-handed dunk in the final minute put an exclamation mark on a game in which the Bears led by 16 at halftime but had to hang on to win. Regina guard Masen Miller and forward Ashton Cook led a comeback that saw their team close within three down the stretch.
Believe it or not, Miller and Cook had all 54 of Regina’s points: Miller 35, including eight 3-pointers, and Cook 19. You don’t ever see something like that, and you don’t ever win that way.
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“A lot of our guys are playing different roles than what they had last year. They are stepping up into larger roles,” said Regina Coach Jared Galpin, whose team dropped to 7-2 overall and in the conference. “We work on box-and-one defenses, diagonal-and-one, one-three chase, triangle-and-two. We work on it at least two times a week. We expect it. But the guys playing different roles need to understand in big games like this, you’ve just got to get yourself a little more comfortable. That’s my job to get them more comfortable and confident.
“They’re going to learn from this, I’m going to learn from this. I guarantee this won’t happen again.”
Tanner Lukavsky had 14 of his 19 points in the first half, banging in a trio of treys to put West Branch up at the break, 33-16. The Bears graduated five seniors, including one of the school’s most prolific players in Beau Cornwell, from a good team last year.
But here they are hanging tight in a tough division and on the cusp of being ranked themselves. The only loss was in the second game of the season, to Northeast.
“A guy like (point guard) Matt Whaley, he probably put in two or three hours every day in open gyms in the offseason,” Lukavsky said. “He works his butt off. Then (forward) Simon (Palmer) was right there with him. We have great JV players that push us in practice. We may not get along with them every day, but they push us to do our best.”
AT WEST BRANCH
IOWA CITY REGINA (54): Chase Becker 0-2 0-0 0, Ashton Cook 6-15 7-12 19, Joshua Dutchik 0-1 0-0 0, Masen Miller 11-19 5-7 35, Danny Molony 0-3 0-0 0, Andrew Wiese 0-2 0-0 0, Casey Daniel 0-1 0-0 0, Coltrae Kerschen 0-4 0-0 0. Totals 17-47 12-19 54.
WEST BRANCH (56): Gavin Hierseman 1-7 0-0 3, Tanner Lukavsky 6-10 4-4 19, Jeff Bowie 7-10 6-12 20, Trey Eagle 1-7 1-2 3, Matt Whaley 1-4 2-6 6, Simon Palmer 3-6 0-0 6, Thomas Gould 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-45 13-24 56.
Halftime — West Branch 33, Iowa City Regina 17. 3-point goals — Iowa City Regina 8-24 (Cook 0-4, Miller 8-12, Molony 0-3, Wiese 0-1, Daniel 0-1, Kerschen 0-3), West Branch 5-17 (Hierseman 1-4, Lukasvky 3-7, Eagle 0-3, Whaley 1-2, Palmer 0-1). Rebounds — Iowa City Regina 35 (Cook 14), West Branch 31 (Bowie 15). Total fouls — Iowa City Regina 19, West Branch 15. Fouled out — Becker, Hierseman. Turnovers — Iowa City Regina 12, West Branch 9.
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