The Waukee Warriors boys’ basketball team found themselves one game away from the State Tournament on Tuesday night and the game against the Maroons of Dowling Catholic came down to the wire in the Substate Finals. Points were at a premium in a defensive game, but it was the Warriors that came away with the 39-36 win at Dallas Center-Grimes High School, earning a trip to the State Tournament in Des Moines next week.
The Warriors 9-point halftime lead was reduced to six at the end of the third quarter and the Maroons even brought the score to within one point in the final minutes, but Waukee was able to make the big plays just when they needed it to seal the victory.
“They just grind it,” said Waukee coach Justin Ohl, who will be making his third State Tournament appearance as the Warriors’ coach. “They just find ways. We talk about trying to be tough and doing all those things.
“Tonight, it wasn’t pretty, but we gave our best.”
The Warriors’ shooting performance was above 50 percent, but the number of shots was limited as they connected on 14 of just 27 shot attempts.
Waukee junior, Noah Hart, said that the low-scoring game was a result of the defensive effort throughout the contest.
“We all work hard on defense,” Hart said. “That’s what we start practice with and end practice with. They’re (Dowling) agressive. They wanted it and we wanted it so that’s where it starts, is the defensive end.”
Hart led the Warriors with 11 points in the game, going 4-of-8 on field goal attempts, including 1-of-2 from 3-point range and 2-of-5 from the free throw line. He added seven rebounds and led the team with five assists.
No other Waukee player was in double digits for the Warriors, as Nathan Johnson and Jaxx Rittman had seven points apiece and Nathan Nelson and Dylan Jones added six points each.
Jones, who electrified the Warriors fans with a put-back dunk in the first half, led the team with eight total rebounds and four blocks, while also contributing four assists on the offensive end. Rittman had six rebounds and two blocks while leading the team with two steals.
As the celebration continued behind him as players, parents and students gathered on the court, Ohl said he wasn’t ready to think ahead to the State Tournament preparation just yet.
“We’re going to enjoy this one, we’ll figure out about those details tomorrow,” Ohl said.
For the Warriors, this will be their seventh State Tournament appearance in school history, and they are still seeking win No. 1. The Warriors are 0-6 all time in State Tournament games.
The Warriors go into the tournament as the No. 4 seed and will take on the Johnston Dragons in the first round on Tuesday, March 6 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. The Warriors and Dragons played each other in Waukee back on Jan. 16, with the Warriors coming away with a 54-49 victory.
The first-round game tips off at 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday night.