The Mustangs learned twice this season that it’s not easy to beat Norwalk. They learned that a third time in Monday’s Class 3A Substate 7 final as the Warriors moved on to the state tournament with a 71-57 win in West Des Moines.


But in the wake of the Mustangs’ final game of the season, the team leaves behind one of the best seasons of recent memory.


“I’ve had some really special teams,” DC-G head coach Joel Rafkin said. “But these guys were close and just quality young men that always came with a positive attitude. They will be winners in life.”


He added that they truly believed they could and would beat Norwalk after losing to the Warriors and star Bowen Born twice before this season in conference play.


But it’s not easy to stop Born’s supremacy. There’s a reason he leads the state with over 37 points per game (he finished with 39 points).


And for a time, the game plan was perfectly executed as he was shadowed by senior Trenton Liebe — with the occasional double-team — using his length to push him at the perimeter and force the Warriors to look elsewhere.


Through the first quarter, the game stood as a coin flip down only 12-7. Then the seal broke loose as Born’s teammates made good on a couple of three-pointers. From there it was only a matter of time before Born’s freakish athleticism and instincts broke through as well, making plays even under certain pressure that previously stonewalled him.


There just wasn’t any keeping up with Norwalk’s kick-outs, fully exploiting gaps left around the arc.


“It wasn’t that they were scoring at a rapid pace,” Rafkin said, referencing Norwalk falling below its season average score. “It’s just we weren’t scoring.”


The Mustangs left at halftime down 31-16, a margin that only kept growing until both teams sent in their backups for some playing time with DC-G’s bench cutting into the lead by a hair.


That just wasn’t enough coverage to make up for the hole that Born dug for the Mustangs, a gap that Liebe’s 19 points followed by Cody Hall (9), Cole Glasgow (8), Luke Rankin (7), and Alex Thomas (7) all tried to fill. They particularly came alive in the second half as the team had just one assist to start the game whereas they dished it eight times in the final two quarters to mix up the attack.


Regardless of the challenges Norwalk brought to the floor, the Mustangs experienced one of the school’s best seasons in recent memory. Finishing with a 17-7 record, it was a vast improvement over last year’s eight-win season, and the best mark since 2015.


“They really thought they could and would beat Norwalk and that’s what I love about this team. They just have a lot of character and class,” Rafkin said.


With the season now behind DC-G, eyes looking to the future will see the departure of a nine man senior class that Rafkin had nothing but praise for this season.


“It is very much a team that will miss these seniors because they’re definitely quality people.”