The streak stops here
STATE CENTER – With big shots, a resurgent rally and frantic finish, it was easy to forget it’s still the regular season.
Because Friday’s showdown for NICL West supremacy had all the makings of a mid-March classic.
Seeing a 17-point lead evaporate in a matter of minutes, the Gladbrook-Reinbeck boys basketball team made just enough plays late to hold off West Marshall in a 55-52 thriller.
“It feels like the state championship,” said Rebels sophomore Zach Pierce, who scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half. “It’s a big game. We’ve looked forward to playing these guys all week.”
Down three with two seconds to play, the Trojans’ nearly found the game-tying shot. Matt Van Metre purposely missed the front-end of a one-and-one, which was tipped out to Jacob Pszanka, who grabbed the ball just inside the arc as time ran out.
The loss ended West Marshall’s 44-game NICL West win streak and set the Rebels (12-3, 11-1) in a gridlock with the Trojans (14-4, 11-1) atop the conference standings.
Camden Kickbush led the Rebels with a game-high 19 points including a trio of 3-pointers. The sophomore guard’s second trey gave Gladbrook-Reinbeck its largest lead at 40-23 with 52 seconds left in the third.
The Trojans answered with a 16-4 surge capped by a layup and 3-pointer from Christian Vis to pull within 44-39 with just under four minutes remaining. Kickbush countered with another 3 and Pierce hit a jumper to reestablish a 10-point cushion a minute later, but the Trojans weren’t done yet.
Triples from Vis and Duncan Ferch bookended a basket from Van Metre to pull the Trojans within 51-49 with 1:02 to play.
The Rebels made just 8-of-23 free throws in the second half, though Jacob Smoldt – – returning from an ankle injury – shot 3-for-4 in the final minute after Kickbush made one to give Gladbrook-Reinbeck a six-point edge. Ferch kept the Trojans alive with one more trey and 8 ticks left on the clock as it remained a one-possession game after the Rebels missed a pair.
With two fouls left to give, the Rebels used both setting up the frantic final seconds with Van Metre on the line.
“I spent a lot of time looking at the clock,” Rebels coach Scott Kiburis said of the closing minutes. “I still had a good feeling since things were going positively for us most of the game. We just had to make the plays to finish it out.”
Ferch led the Trojans with 17 points, while Vis had all eight of his points in the final frame. The duo had combined for 47 points in West Marshall’s 54-38 victory over the Rebels in Reinbeck Dec. 14.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck made sure it didn’t happen again.
“Our big focus was Ferch and Vis. They burned us earlier in the season,” Pierce said. “We just focused on them and made the other guys (try to) beat us.”
Kiburis credited Trevor Trunck for his defense on Ferch, Smoldt’s gritty 11-point effort after a recent ankle injury and the scoring punch of sophomores Kickbush and Pierce.
Despite his team’s inspired comeback, West Marshall coach Paul deNeui knew it would be a tall task to overcome such a deficit against a dangerous Rebels squad.
“We started playing together and got some things going but it was just too late,” deNeui said. “I said this the first time we played them – this is a very good Gladbrook-Reinbeck team. I respect everything they do and they came out and played well tonight.”
The Rebels made their statement early with the game’s first 10 points and a 12-5 advantage after the first. Ferch made three triples in the first half to help the Trojans keep pace as Gladbrook-Reinbeck led 26-17 at the half.
The Rebels shot just 10-of-25 from the line, though they held the Trojans to a 2-for-3 effort.
“We’re still pretty young, but we’re starting to develop,” said Kiburis. “Hopefully this will propel us through the tough stretch ahead of us and into the district tournament.”
The Rebels entertain Class 1A No. 10 North Tama tonight before hosting South Tama Tuesday. The Trojans complete their regular season home slate against AGWSR Tuesday.
The Trojans hadn’t lost an NICL West Division game in over four years. Their last conference defeat came against Grundy Center on Dec. 21, 2009. deNeui spoke about the streak afterward, crediting former West Marshall coach Dave Shipley.
“Dave did a lot of this. He deserves the credit,” deNeui said. “We’re just trying to continue what he built on.”