Gehlen boys basketball knocks off No. 10 Newell-Fonda in thriller

Wednesday, February 22, 2023
(Sentinel Photo By Allen Hamil) Gehlen’s Keaten Bonderson goes up for a dunk in Tuesday’s win over Newell-Fonda. Bonderson finished with a career high 40 points in the win.

CHEROKEE — Tuesday’s Class 1A district final between Gehlen Catholic and No. 10 ranked Newell-Fonda was a grudge match nearly 20 years in the making. The two teams met in 2004 for the right to go to state with top-ranked Newell-Fonda going on to win that game by an 86-83 final score. The long-awaited rematch featured a close back-and-forth game which Gehlen won by a 79-77 final score at the Cherokee gym.

“This reminds me of when I was an assistant coach under Luke Sauer. We played Newell-Fonda at Spencer in a substate game,” Gehlen Head Coach Mike Langel said. “Their coach (Chad Buchholz) was on the team and we talked about it a little bit before the game. It was the same kind of a game, back and forth all night long. They beat us by three at the last minute so it was like it was relived only we came out on top tonight and that was awesome.”

Gehlen had the early momentum which included a couple early 3-pointers from Connor Kraft as he finished the game with 11 points. All but two of those points came in the first half.

(Sentinel Photo By Allen Hamil) Drake DeRocher lays the ball up off the glass in Tuesday’s district final win. DeRocher scored 14 points for the Jays in the game.

Drake DeRocher, who finished with 14 points, knocked down a three from the perimeter and then Keaten Bonderson got the hoop and the harm and converted the extra free throw for an additional three points to stretch the lead to 18-12. Gehlen held a 23-16 advantage after a quarter.

Newell-Fonda went on a run in the second quarter as they were able to take the lead into the locker room. The Mustangs outscored Gehlen 20-9 in the second quarter and they were able to pull in front 34-32 on a 3-pointer from Carter Sievers. Max Carlson got a layup to extend the advantage to two possessions entering the intermission.

Bonderson, who already had 14 points by halftime, cranked it up even further in the second half as he was able to finish the game with 40 points. It was a career high total for Bonderson and also the second-best single game total in Gehlen history, behind only a 48 point performance from Ron Wiltgen in the 1961-62 season.

Bonderson was slightly surprised at his final output after the game.

“Forty, no. Twenty, but I didn’t expect to go off for 40,” said Bonderson, who came into the game averaging just over 22 points per game. “I think that’s my role on the team and I’m just glad I could help my team win. It feels awesome to, when we need a bucket, to see it go through the net.”

Bonderson, already the school’s all-time scoring leader, surpassed the school single season points record with his scoring outburst. The previous mark of 555 points was also set by Wiltgen in that 1961-62 season. Bonderson has scored at least 400 points in all four of his seasons with the Jays and brought this year’s total to 574. He currently sits at 1,901 points for his career.

While Bonderson has scored plenty of points before, he continued to amaze Coach Langel and Gehlen fans alike with his performance on Tuesday. In the third quarter he took the ball to the hoop for a dunk which tied the score. A few minutes later, he added another dunk at the rim and then drained a 3-pointer to force a Newell-Fonda timeout with the Jays now in front again by a 47-43 score.

“Keaten Bonderson, what a game he had, 40 points. The offensive performance he gave was just crazy,” Langel said. “That dunk he had in the third quarter was just awesome. Never seen anything like that in a high school game.”

Gehlen was able to stretch the lead to 65-56 with 4:21 left, but the Mustangs weren’t ready to give up. In just over a minute they were able to cut the deficit down to four as Gehlen called a timeout with 3:02 left after Sievers hit a 3-pointer to make it 69-65. Sievers, who entered the game averaging just under 28 points per game, ended up scoring 32 points for the Mustangs which included 14 points in the final quarter as he made three triples in the last eight minutes.

A pair of 3-pointers from Mason Dicks and Sievers surrounded one from Keaton Logan, who ended with 14 points for the Jays, and made it a 76-75 game with just over a minute left in the contest.

Bonderson hit a pair of free throws to extend the Gehlen lead, but Caden Meyer got the last of his 24 points for the Mustangs with a layup on the other end to make it a 78-77 score.

Bonderson missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to give the Mustangs an opening, but even after two timeouts, Newell-Fonda failed to draw up the winning basket. The second inbounds attempt with 4.9 seconds left, on the sideline opposite the Newell-Fonda bench on their half of the court, was lobbed in and Gabe Wiltgen easily hauled in the ball for the steal with no Mustangs players anywhere near him.

Wiltgen made his presence felt in other areas along with the inbounds steal. He pulled down seven rebounds which matched with Bonderson for most on the team.

“Our big post players all have their strengths and tonight it was Gabe’s night to play with his strengths on the zone in the second half. He did a great job with rebounding,” Langel said.

After getting the steal of the inbounds, Wiltgen tossed the ball off to Logan who was subsequently fouled with 1.2 seconds left. He missed the first free throw, but made the second to increase the lead to 79-77. Newell-Fonda’s final attempt before the buzzer was unsuccessful and the Jays were able to celebrate the win.

“It was intense, it was awesome, it was fun, it was loud, but there was never a doubt in my mind that we were going to come out of here with a win,” Bonderson said. “Credit to them, they’re a great team, but I think we just kind of played with a little chip on our shoulder.”

Langel said it was a fun game to partake in.

“It was very exciting. The kids are really charged up,” Langel said. “Both teams shot well. Both teams have great offenses and it was on display tonight all night long.”

Newell-Fonda finishes the season with a record of 18-5. Newell-Fonda has a good tradition in boys basketball, winning four state titles from 1991 to 2000, but the Mustangs will once again fall short of state as they haven’t made it back since 2014. Remsen St. Mary’s denied them a trip to state in the substate game last year and beat them in the district final the year before that.

Remsen St. Mary’s (21-2) will be the opponent for Gehlen (20-5) in Saturday’s substate final to be held at Le Mars Community High School.

“Obviously we’ve got a long history with St. Mary’s,” Langel said. “They got us the last time we played in substate. I think we’ll be ready. It’s going to be a great game. I think it’ll be awesome. We have a lot of respect for each others’ programs. So it’s going to come down to that. We’ll be prepared and see what we can get done.”

The two teams split their regular season meetings with each team winning on their rivals’ home court. RSM won 62-50 in Le Mars on Dec. 20 while Gehlen returned the favor with a 57-51 win in Remsen on Jan. 10.

While those games should give some insight into Saturday’s rubber match, Bonderson said Gehlen’s 41-33 loss to RSM in the 2021 substate game, also played at the LCHS gym, will provide plenty of motivation for the team.

“It’s going to take a lot, probably more than tonight, but I don’t think anyone on our team, especially the seniors after what happened sophomore year, we don’t want our careers to end to St. Mary’s, so I think we’re going to come out hot,” Bonderson said.

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