For the second straight season the Gehlen Catholic boys' basketball team will find itself vying for a district championship in Sioux Center following a dominating 64-39 semifinal victory over Woodbury Central Monday night in Moville.
Last year's team charged to a 20-3 record before handling Boyden-Hull 61-41 and claiming the district title. This season-after replacing all five senior starters-the Jays limped through the regular season with a 7-14 mark before reeling off two district wins to earn the right to defend their district title against Rock Valley Wednesday night.
The Jays shot 62 percent from the floor against Woodbury Central, including 69 percent from 2-point range, and knocked down 15-of-19 shots from the free-throw line.
"Shooting always makes things go well," said Gehlen head coach Luke Sauer. "We did a pretty good job of moving the ball up and catching Woodbury Central not getting back on defense. A lot of those baskets came in transition, that's why our percentage was so good."
Woodbury Central (8-15) surged ahead early with a 9-0 run that put them in front 9-4 midway through the first quarter. The Jays made just one field goal in the first eight minutes, but knocked down 7-of-8 shots from the free-throw line to salvage a 9-9 tie heading into the second.
"We came out real tentative again on offense, just like against Remsen last Wednesday," said Sauer. "We were able to kind of weather the storm. They had home court and I told the kids it was important to get off to a good start or at least hang in there and that's what we did."
A Robb Langel layup in the opening minute of the second quarter gave Gehlen a 13-11 lead and the Jays never trailed again. J.J. Pick rattled home a 3-pointer on the following possession and three minutes later Mitch Kurth extended the lead to 25-16 with a three of his own. With just under two minutes remaining before halftime, the Jays ran their offense for 45 seconds before Nick Livermore found Jason Rohe with a backdoor pass for a layup that capped off the first-half scoring and put Gehlen up 33-18.
"We really played well that second quarter," said Sauer. "We picked it up on the offensive end and started forcing turnovers, that really changed the game. We went into a halfcourt trap and that's what kind of got us moving."
Gehlen didn't let up in the second half, outscoring the Wildcats 17-14 in the third quarter and leading by as many as 26 points on a basket by T.J. Britton midway through the fourth quarter. Britton finished with nine points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals in the contest.
"T.J. Britton just played an outstanding game tonight," said Sauer. "It'd be nice to get another effort like that out of him on Wednesday."
Livermore tossed in a team-high 16 points, handed out four assists and grabbed two steals for the Jays. He connected on all three attempts from 2-point range and was 7-of-8 from the free-throw line.
"Nick really did a nice job tonight of calling some set plays and calming us down at times," said Sauer. "He got to the line a bunch and did a really nice job of keeping everything under control."
Rohe added 14 points and Pick contributed five rebounds and two steals for the Jays.
The Rockets advanced with a 75-57 semifinal victory over 18-6 George-Little Rock Monday night and an 84-52 win over Remsen-Union Feb. 23.
"They're a very good team-probably one of the best teams we'll face this year-but certainly not a team that's out of our league. To take it to a team like George-Little Rock says something to what they're playing like right now."
Sauer said his team will have to play a solid all-around game to compete with Rock Valley.
"Honestly, were 9-14 going up there, so we're going to have to limit our turnovers and shoot the ball well. It'll be a good test for us," said Sauer. "Heck, we're back in the district championship so there's no complaints from us on our end."
Sauer said he would like to see another strong showing from the Gehlen fan base.
"I hope we get the crowd back up there like we did last year in Sioux Center," said Sauer. "I promise they'll see the team put a good effort on the floor."