Top-ranked Saints stave off STC
Trojans fall to two-time defending state champ Cedar Rapids Xavier in substate finals
CEDAR RAPIDS — For the first 32 minutes of the Class 3A Substate 3 final between the South Tama County boys basketball team and No. 1 Cedar Rapids Xavier on Monday night, it seemed there was an upset brewing in the U.S. Cellular Center.
The Trojans had played exactly how they needed in order to down the two-time defending state champs, opening up as much as a 10-point lead during the third quarter. The Saints, however, kept clawing back and fighting, reducing that third-quarter lead from 10 to just two by the start of the fourth, carrying that momentum all the way through the fourth and walking away with a 59-56 win and a fourth-straight trip to the state tournament.
Xavier head coach Ryan Luehrsmann said that run to end the third quarter only down two was a big turning point for his squad, and they were able to pull out the win because of their experience on the big stage.
“We wanted to get it under five going into the fourth, so to get it down to two heading into the fourth quarter was big,” Luehrsmann said. “I have a lot of confidence in our guys, we’ve been there and done that before so I think our experience helped us out keeping the calms and keeping the nerves in check.”
South Tama head coach Dustin Peska said what led to that run was a momentary lack of ball handling, and against a team with the pedigree like the Saints (19-8), that’s enough to lose the game.
“We were up 10, if you had told us we would be up 10 in the third quarter with three minutes left we would have taken that,” Peska said. “We didn’t take care of the ball, we got careless and they got some transition layups and made a run.”
Despite the final outcome, Peska said his Trojans (15-9) have nothing to be ashamed of in the loss, and ultimately had the ball bounced their way just one more time it would be STC headed to state next week.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of our effort,” Peska said. “The effort was there, the heart was there, the will, the desire, everything was there, we just came up short in the final few seconds. We had an opportunity, actually two opportunities in the last 12 seconds. A couple of open looks to tie it up, but the ball didn’t go in.”
Part of the reason South Tama controlled the game for the first three quarters was due to some lights-out shooting from senior Sterling Tyon, who finished with a game-high 25 points including seven hits from behind the 3-point line.
Peska said he would put his senior sharp-shooter up against anyone as the best shooter in the state.
“I have told other people that he is one of the best shooters in the state and no one is going to change my mind on that,” Peska said of Tyon. “They can disagree with me all they want but I will put him up there right with anybody as the best shooter in the state.”
Tyon had 19 points in the first half for the Trojans, but only six in the final 16 minutes. He said even though he had cooled down, his teammates were there to pick up the slack.
“It was a tough game, tough way to go out,” Tyon said. “Unfortunately I couldn’t keep the same intensity going in the second half as I did in the first half, but I have to give credit to [Xavier’s] Matt Mims. He denied me the ball pretty much the whole time but that’s when my other teammates had to step up and they did.”
While Tyon wasn’t scoring in the second half, senior Gabe Shields stepped up his game, dropping eight of his 10 points in the final two quarters. Shields actually had a shot at tying the game with just seconds left, but his shot couldn’t quite find its mark. The events that led to Shields taking a shot well beyond the 3-point line were a bit muddled, but Peska said he can live with the game ending on a shot from one of his best players.
“There was some miscommunication, we didn’t get the play that we wanted, but it is what it is. Gabe still had a good, open look for three and I am not faulting him at all,” Peska said. “I will take that any day of the week, and if that goes we look like geniuses.”
Four players finished in double figures for Xavier, led by Kyle Moeder with 17 and followed by Jackson Joens with 11 and Gabe Lux and Matt Mims with 10 each.
Mims and Joens each finished well shy of their season averages in the game, and Luehrsmann credited the great STC guards for hounding his guys all night.
“I can’t say enough good things about South Tama and those guys, how talented their guards are and how well coached they are,” Luehrsmann said. “It was a treat to compete against them.”
Joining Tyon and Shields in double figures for the Trojans was junior Keith Keahna with 11 points, while senior Justus Ward finished with eight.
The loss brings to close the best season South Tama has had in over a decade. Once the final buzzer had sounded, Peska gathered his players together for one final message on the court, and he said that message was to keep in mind just what they’ve accomplished this year.
“I stayed with our motto: stay together and keep your heads up,” Peska said of his message to the team. “I wanted them to keep their heads up and show the crowd how much the fans and the family and everyone from South Tama how much they meant to us. One more good moment on the floor.”
While this loss with sting for quite some time, Peska said the guys on this team will be better for it in the long run later on in their lives.
“They know they gave it their all and they know they had the bigger hearts than anyone on this court tonight. Everybody in a black jersey had bigger hearts,” Peska said, the emotions of the loss weighing heavy in his words. “These kids, they deserved the W but in the long run this will make them stronger and better. Better competitors, better individuals, better fathers, better husbands down the road.”
Tyon said he hopes what they did this season, the first 15-win season for the Trojans in the quikstats era, isn’t just a blip on the radar, and he hopes this encourages other South Tama players to pick up where they left off and continue building this program.
“Hopefully the kids coming up will see this season as the next step into growing this program and it will develop them into good players,” Tyon said.
Peska had trouble thinking about the future of the program after the loss, saying he just wants to enjoy the remaining time he has with these players and this great senior class.
“I am going to enjoy this bus ride with the boys going home one last time,” Peska said, continuing to fight back his emotions. “Just being with the boys, I won’t sleep at all tonight and, I don’t know, all I can think about is being with these kids.”
Cedar Rapids Xavier 59, South Tama County 56
At Cedar Rapids
SOUTH TAMA (15-9) — Kaiden Buffalo 1 0-0 2, Justus Ward 4 0-0 8, Gabe Shields 5 0-2 10, Keith Keahna 3 5-6 11, Sterling Tyon 8 2-3 26, Nathan Lasley 0 0-0 0, Lane Koch 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 21 7-11 56.
CR XAVIER (18-6) — Gabe Lux 3 2-4 10, Matt Mims 3 4-4 10, Jackson Joens 5 0-0 11, Quinn Schulte 3 0-0 6, Kyle Moeder 7 2-3 17, Jake Beckmann 2 0-0 5, Aaron Bartels 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 23 8-11 59.
SOUTH TAMA 18 13 14 11 — 56
CR XAVIER 14 13 16 16 — 59
3-Point Goals–STC 7 (Tyon 7), Xavier 5 (Lux 2, Beckmann, Joens). Total Fouls–STC 12, Xavier 13. Fouled Out–Moeder.