Redhawks withstand red-hot Royals

COLO – Coming into Tuesday night’s Iowa Star Conference clash with Colo-NESCO, the North Tama boy’s basketball team had won 12 games by at least 19 points. And the Redhawks defeated the Royals by 40 in the earlier meeting just two games into the season.

North Tama had not really been in a tight game that came down to a few plays. Until Tuesday that is.

The Redhawks managed to come through in their first late-game clutch situations though by draining nine free throws in the final 2 minutes and bested the Royals 62-55 in their closest contest of the season.

“The one thing we did get out of this game was that we have’t really been in a lot of close games yet,” North Tama coach Brandon Clubb said. “We were able to hit our free throws and we took care of the ball. It was a good learning experience for us.”

The Redhawks continued to play without one of its top scorers in Skyler Kvidera, but North Tama outlasted a feisty Colo-NESCO team that came within a few points of pulling off the upset at home.

“I was very happy with the way we played tonight,” Colo-NESCO coach Pat Wynja said. “It came down to a few shots. North Tama is tough. But I was happy with the way our guys fought tonight.”

The Royals (10-7) got strong games from seniors Jake Webb and Brandyn Niemeyer, but the difference in the game was North Tama’s depth as well as the fact that the Redhawks made 23-of-36 from the foul line.

“When you look at who they have coming off the bench and who we have, our hand is a little more stacked,” Clubb said. “We were a little deeper tonight, which probably factored into the win. But give Colo credit. They played a really nice game.”

North Tama senior Mitchell Boerm led the Redhawks (13-1) with 18 points, while Jacob Wrage added 10, with five of those coming at the line inside of 1:12 to play in the game. But four other Redhawks scored at least six points.

In comparison, the Royals got 22 points from Webb and 17 from Niemeyer, but no one else scored more than six in the loss. Colo-NESCO also was just 14-of-22 from the line.

It was a back-and-forth affair in the first quarter as neither team led by more than four. The Royals led 13-11 after the opening frame, but the Redhawks used a 6-0 run to gain an advantage and then pushed the lead to 11 following seven straight points. The Royals scored the only four points in the final two minutes of the half but still trailed by seven at the break.

It was much of the same in the third quarter. The Redhawks maintained a small lead but Webb and Niemeyer kept the game close for the Royals. Webb cut the North Tama lead to four following four straight points, but every time the Royals got close, the Redhawks would come up with a couple big shots.

“North Tama is a tough time,” Wynja said. “We did all we could do but couldn’t get over the hump.”

The Redhawks took a five-point lead into the fourth quarter and then quickly extended the advantage to 10 – the largest lead of the game – until six straight points by the Royals closed the gap to four.

With the ball and still down four, Niemeyer missed an open layup on a drive to the hoop. That may have been the dagger for the Royals as they could never get closer than four the rest of the way.

“Nobody feels worse about that shot than Brandyn,” Wynja said. “He is such a great player. He does so much for our team and did so again tonight.”

The Redhawks continued to lead by four with 2:35 to play in the game. And gave the Royals chances to shorten the gap after four straight misses from the line.

Colo-NESCO could not take advantage though. The Royals turned the ball over with 2:11 to play and still down four.

That gave North Tama a chance to ice the game at the foul line. And the Redhawks responded by going 9-for-10 in the final 1:47 to seal the win.

“(Wrage) is one of the best free throw shooters on our team, and he got the misses out of his system,” Clubb said of two of the four misses at the line by the Redhawks. “We eventually did what we had to do to win.”

The win put the Redhawks in the driver’s seat for the Iowa Star Conference championship and secured them of one of the top two seeds in the district tournament. North Tama is now 11-0 in league play.

For Colo-NESCO, which was coming off a win Monday over Class 1A No. 10 Ankeny Christian Academy, the squad continues to get better with the emergence of Webb inside. Webb did not play in the first meeting with the Redhawks and missed the first half of the season with an injury.

“We are learning and getting better,” Wynja said. “We are much improved from the beginning of the year and have really made a jump since we came back from break.”

Webb finished with a double-double with 12 rebounds and his 22 points. Niemeyer also contributed seven rebounds and six assists with his 17 points.