WEST DES MOINES — Nodaway Valley center Alex Welsch had one assist in Saturday’s Class 2A substate game against North Polk.
But, it turned out to be the biggest pass of the Wolverines’ season to date.
Eric Bonewitz’s 3-pointer from the corner on an out-of-bounds play had lifted North Polk (16-8) into a 61-61 tie with 10 seconds left. Fourth-ranked Nodaway Valley (23-1) had time for a quick shot, or face the uncertain prospects of overtime against an upset-minded Comets squad that beat 21-1 Des Moines Christian for a district crown.
NV point guard Brad Baudler quickly advanced the ball, and dished it to Welsch in the low post. The 6-7 all-stater drew a crowd, momentarily fumbled a dribble, and then passed it out to Dan Ehrsam waiting on the left wing behind the 3-point arc.
Like he had done four other times during the game, Ehrsam fired on target for the game-winner with less than three seconds left.
Nodaway Valley 64, North Polk 61.
North Polk’s Chad Conger’s heave from half-court was short at the buzzer, sending the purple-clad Wolverine fans into a wild celebration at Valley High School.
“I had it, but they kind of stripped me on the last dribble,” Welsch said. “I knew there were two people right around the basket, so I passed it out. A three for Daniel is basically a layup. He was on fire tonight.”
Ehrsam had been shooting in rhythm the entire night, matching teammate T.J. Bower with a game-high 17 points.
“I was hoping he could kick it out, and he did,” Ehrsam said. “I just shot it with confidence.”
The winning play did not come by accident.
“We worked on that today, believe it or not,” said coach Darrell Burmeister, who held morning and afternoon shoot-arounds Saturday. “We said, Alex, you’re going to get doubled today,’ and we worked on the kickout pass. Dan did a nice job of sliding up for the better passing angle. I was sitting right there and I thought it was in as soon as it left his hand.”
North Polk coach Tron Scott said his team nearly came up with the ball and prevented the Wolverines from even trying a winning shot. He had no regrets about the dangerous Ehrsam (43 percent 3-point shooter) left alone at the arc.
“It was a scramble situation down there,” Scott said. “We wanted to come up with it, we just about had it, but we didn’t. They popped it to Ehrsam, and he made a wide-open shot. It was an intense game, fun for both fans to watch, I’m sure. We battled back from being down 56-50 to tie it and just lost in a scramble situation.”
Baudler, Nodaway Valley’s heady point guard who created problems for North Polk all night with dribble penetration, said a defensive switch at halftime proved critical.
North Polk senior Jacob Hadaway, Class 2A pitcher of the year last year without an earned run allowed until a 3-1 state championship loss to Dyersville Beckman, had scored nine points in leading the Comets to a 30-28 lead at the break.
“At first it was me guarding 20 and Dean Frank guarding 10, but Dean told me at halftime, ‘I think you can guard him a little better.’ He was taller, but pretty quick,” Baudler said.
“With his knee surgeries, I think it was a little easier for Dean to guard the spot-up shooter than 10 cutting all the time,” Burmeister said. “Brad is a tough defensive player and does a good job denying. I thought it was a great switch.”
Bower, meanwhile, carried a big load with baseline drives in scoring 11 first-half points as Welsch sat out about five minutes with three fouls.
“T.J. Bower, this is his time of year,” Burmeister said. “He knows what to do with the basketball. And I thought Brad really broke them down tonight. It was a hard-fought victory in a great atmosphere.”
Tim Hansen, 5-11 reserve post player, made a baseline jump shot and held his own on the boards in the first half while filling in for Welsch, Burmeister noted. Welsch finished with a double-double — 10 points and 10 rebounds. Baudler had 14 points while handing out five assists.
Nodaway Valley, which placed fourth in last year’s Class 1A state tourney, returns to Des Moines for the fifth time in nine years. It’s especially rewarding for this senior-oriented squad that returns the same lineup as a year ago. Earlier this season the team mourned the death of Cindy Kohler, wife of assistant coach Dick Kohler, and a team statistician.
“We were in the locker room and he kind of broke down,” Bower said. “We made him proud tonight.”
Burmeister said there’s an emotional bond created within the team, but his longtime assistant coach keeps it in perspective.
“Coach Kohler understands it’s too much pressure on the kids when they say they want to win it for him, and Cindy,” Burmeister said. “It’s nice. He appreciates it. But he just wants them to do their best. He just wants them to go out and have fun. He’s very close to all these players on this team.”
The second-seeded Wolverines open state tournament play 10:30 a.m. March 5 in a rematch with No. 7 seed Carroll Kuemper Catholic (16-8). The Wolverines beat the Knights 64-60 on Feb. 8 in Greenfield.
Kuemper defeated Red Oak 59-46 in a Class 2A substate final in Harlan Saturday.
NORTH POLK (61) — Russell Greene 7 2-4 16, Jacob Hadaway 7 0-0 15, Eric Bonewitz 4 0-0 12, Chad Conger 4 0-0 9, Hunter Brunsvold 2 0-0 4, Ryley Sandberg 1 0-0 3, Blake Brauer 2. Totals — 26 2-4 61. 3-point goals — 7-14 (Bonewitz 4, Hadaway 1, Conger 1, Sandberg 1). FG shooting — 26-48 (54.1 percent). Rebounds — 27. Turnovers — 10. Team fouls — 12. Fouled out — None.
NODAWAY VALLEY (64) — T.J. Bower 7 2-2 17, Dan Ehrsam 6 0-0 17, Brad Baudler 6 1-2 14, Alex Welsch 4 2-2 10, Dean Frank 1 1-2 3, Tim Hansen 1 1-2 3. Totals — 25 7-10 64. 3-point goals — 7-19 (Ehrsam 5, Bower 1, Baudler 1). FG shooting — 25-53 (47.2 percent). Rebounds — 22 (Welsch 10, Bower 7). Assists — 11 (Baudler 5, Frank 2, Bower 2). Steals — 8 (Frank 3, Ehrsam 2, Bower 2). Blocked shots — 3 (Welsch 3). Turnovers — 5. Team fouls — 8. Fouled out — None.
North Polk — 14 30 47 61
Nodaway Valley — 13 28 49 64