Rally falls short for Remsen St. Mary’s in 1A quarterfinals
DES MOINES — Trailing by as many as 19 in the second half, the Remsen St. Mary’s boys basketball team made a valiant effort to work back into their Class 1A state quarterfinal contest against Grand View Christian on Monday, March 8, at Wells Fargo Arena, but the Hawks fell just short of completing the comeback as they lost by a final score of 54-49.
“I’m proud of the boys and how they fought back,” RSM co-Head Coach Justin Ruden said. “A lot of teams would have just turned it in maybe at halftime being down 16, but we told them, ‘Let’s claw back into this thing, get it to single digits,’ and we got it to single digits.”
The comeback was fueled in part by the defense stepping up in the second half along with poor shooting from the foul line by the Thunder.
Grand View Christian, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, made just 10-of-25 attempts from the charity stripe in the final quarter which allowed the sixth-seeded Hawks to claw back into the game. The Thunder entered the game with a 58 percent success rate from the foul line which the Hawks were able to exploit.
“We went to that foul game a little bit early, but we knew with their percentages from the free-throw line that was maybe an option to drag out this game,” Ruden said. “The boys executed that and kept clawing their way back, got it down to four and just came up short in the end.”
After getting down as far as 19 points, the Hawks got a 3-pointer from Jaxon Bunkers and an old-fashioned three-point play from Carter Schorg. A 10-0 run continued with back-to-back layups from Blaine Harpenau who finished with eight points.
The Thunder still led by nine with 53 seconds left in the game when the Hawks made one final push. Austin Jensen knocked down a pair of free throws with 35 seconds left and after two missed free throws from Manny Hammonds, the Hawks pulled to within four on a 3-pointer from Harpenau.
Alandis Arrasmith made 3-of-4 free throws to stretch the margin back out to seven points with 12.3 seconds left before Alex Schroeder sank a 3-pointer with just over six seconds left to bring the score to within four at 53-49. While the late 3-pointers made things interesting at the end, the team ended just 5-of-23 shooting from beyond the arc in the contest, including one final desperation shot from Schroeder in the final seconds after Daniel Tobiloba made 1-of-2 free throws with 4.9 seconds left in the game.
Tobiloba, a 36 percent free throw shooter for the season, ended 3-of-10 at the foul line, but was able to affect the game in other ways with his 6-foot-11 height. Jensen, who battled in the post against him for most of the game, explained what that experience was like.
“It was a challenge, a really hard one,” Jensen said. “He’s a really good player. I battled as hard as I could. Going into the game the coaches had confidence in me so I had confidence in myself just to go at him and not be afraid.”
Tobiloba finished with 11 points and 18 rebounds. He also swatted seven shots in the contest.
While undersized in the post against the Thunder center, the 6-foot-4 Jensen still managed a double-double of his own with 12 points and 12 rebounds although he downplayed those numbers after the game.
“I feel accomplished, but it was a team effort fighting back and those numbers really don’t mean anything to me,” Jensen said. “It was a team fight so I was just proud to do my part.”
Grand View Christian got out to a solid start in the first half behind the play of Hammonds who scored 15 of his game-high 20 points before the intermission.
While going 7-of-9 from the floor in the first half, the Hawks were able to hold him to 1-of-4 shooting in the second half.
“Manny Hammonds is a good player for them,” Ruden said. “He just kind of forced his way into the lane, got up and was able to rise over some of our smaller guys and knock those down. We made the adjustment in the second half of doubling on him, trapping him to get him to get rid of the ball and make the other guys make plays. We shut him down a little bit better in the second half.”
While the Thunder scored 26 of their 32 first half points from the paint, they added just 10 points in the paint in the second half.
RSM was held to just five points in the second quarter and two of those came at the last second as Jensen got a steal and layup to close the first half as the team was just 1-of-9 shooting in the frame before that.
After being held scoreless in the first half, RSM’s Jaxon Bunkers and Blaine Harpenau picked up the scoring in the second half. Bunkers tied for the team lead with 12 points and Harpenau finished with eight points, matching Waldschmitt in scoring in the game.
More of the scoring for the Hawks in the second half came off turnovers as they finished with 20 points off turnovers after getting six such points before the intermission. RSM forced 11 second-half turnovers and the Thunder finished with 17 turnovers in the game.
“We got ourselves in a hole right out of the gate and we knew we had to crawl back in the second half, so we had to pick up the intensity on defense and defense leads to offense for us,” Waldschmitt said.
After wins in state quarterfinals for their first three years at state, the last two years have seen the Hawks fall short including last year’s buzzer-beating loss to West Fork. While the ending isn’t what the team wanted, Waldschmitt said it was great to make it back to Des Moines for the fifth straight season.
“We love being down here, it’s a great experience to get down and play at Wells Fargo Arena. Not many teams get to do this,” Waldschmitt said. “There were a lot of doubters at the beginning of the season because we lost six, seven seniors last year and we knew we had a brand new team that had never played together. We just continued to work hard at practice and we got it done.”
This is the third time the Hawks have faced Grand View Christian at state. The first two times also saw the Thunder come out victorious en route to state championships in 2017 and 2018, the beginning of a string of three consecutive titles.
The Thunder (20-1) will look to continue on the path to their fourth title in five years as they will meet seventh-seeded Montezuma (23-2) in Wednesday’s (March 10) semifinals.
Remsen St. Mary’s concludes the season with a 22-4 record. They will say goodbye to a pair of seniors who took the court one final time in Waldschmitt and Harpenau.
“Two great leaders is what they are and seniors that we’re going to miss,” Ruden said. “Blaine and Levi, they’ve kind of gone two different paths on their way here. Blaine’s been a part of it, maybe small minutes his freshman year, but he’s been on that varsity squad. He had to go through some injuries and adversity some of those seasons. Levi, he’s been a guy that’s had to work his way to get all the way up here, really didn’t see any varsity time until this year and just kept with it. A lot of kids might have given it up, but he stayed with it and was a huge boost to us this year. Both of them are great role models.”
Jensen will be among those who will look to extend the school’s streak of state tournament appearances to six next season in his senior year.
“We’re looking forward to next season,” Jensen said. “We’ve got to put in the offseason work and hopefully we’ll come right back down here again.”