When destiny calls, you answer. On Tuesday night in front of a packed house inside Meadows Gym in Grimes, the Waukee boys basketball team answered the call and earned their way back to the promised land with a substate final victory.
The magical season that is continues on for the Warrior boys squad as they bested long-time rival West Des Moines Valley by a 59-55 final to punch a repeat ticket to the state tournament. It was the 28th all-time meeting between these two squads and Waukee pulled out their eighth win over Valley across the last eight battled between the two teams. It was another huge win for the Warriors and continued the long journey that began with question marks and has now taken them to the hallowed grounds of the state tournament.
“We didn’t know if this team could make it there (to state) this year with what we lost from last year,” began head coach Justin Ohl. “It’s a real testament to how hard they’ve worked.”
By no means was it an easy win for the Warriors and it took all they had and more to pick up their 11th straight victory and 21st overall win of the season. It was a tale of two halves for both the Warriors and the Tigers which began with a huge defensive tone. It was one of the slowest starts to a single game for either team and for Waukee, it marked the second-lowest first-quarter scoring mark across a single game. The Waukee offense connected on just 30 percent shooting across the first quarter but still held strong and ended the opening quarter tied with Valley at 8-8. Overall, the Warriors shot just 30 percent from the floor and connected on just three-of-nine from three-point range. Waukee ended up on a 13-10 run across the final minutes of the first half and ended up taking in one of their bigger leads of the game at 21-18.
Waukee then seemed to find their offensive rhythm across the second half of play, connecting on 52 percent of their shots. Part of that strong second-half surge came from junior Tucker DeVries who concluded the first half with under ten points scored but ended the night with his customary team-leading performance in 24 points. It was not just the offense that served as the root cause but other aspects of Waukee’s game as well according to DeVries himself.
“Defensively we held strong which allowed us to pick up the pace overall,” said DeVries. “We were strongest offensively when we were strongest defensively tonight.”
In the end, Waukee found their way back to their normal aggressive style of play in the second half led by a few big reasons for coach Ohl.
“The ball went in the hoop for one thing,” grinned Ohl. “We made them really work for every shot. We’re a shooting team an in the first half I thought we settled for shots but in the second I felt like we did a good job getting to the hoop.”
With that strong balance of offense and defense, Waukee overcame a 14-10 run by Valley in the third quarter which tied things at 32-32 heading into the final quarter of action. That included a massive 27 point fourth-quarter where Waukee experienced their largest lead of the game in ten points with just over two minutes left in regulation. With the help of over 50 percent shooting in the final quarter alone, Waukee propelled themselves in a scoring frenzy quarter 27-23 for the eventual victory.
DeVries’ 24 points paced the Warriors on the night and once again brought him past his 21 points per game average with his 14th 20-plus point performance on the season. Right behind him on the scoreboard was Payton Sandfort who collected 15 points shooting nearly 50 percent altogether. Freshman Pryce Sandfort followed suit with ten points scored on the night along with both Blake Papenberg and Lincoln Swanson picking up four points each.
The win now provides Waukee with their third straight trip to the state tournament and their tenth overall ticket punched in school history. The outcome was what they wanted but it sure took fans, players, and even coach Ohl for quite a ride.
“I’d like to say it’s exciting (to coach a game like this) but it’s not, it’s misery,” joked Ohl. “It’s a really hard high school game to play with how much is on the line. It’s a good group and they deserve everything they’ve received.”
Waukee will now take to the hallowed hardwood of the state tournament once more which begins Mar. 9 and continues on through Mar. 13.