RSM boys basketball tops Gehlen for seventh straight state trip
LE MARS — Remsen St. Mary’s squared off against Gehlen Catholic in a Class 1A substate game on Saturday at the Le Mars Community Competition Gym. The No. 7 ranked Hawks won the rubber match of the War Eagle Conference rivals by a 49-38 final score to earn their seventh straight state tournament appearance.
“It all started with my brother’s senior class seven years ago and it just showed us how to work hard and we’ve done that,” said senior Alex Schroeder, whose brother Colin is now one of the assistant coaches after being a member of the first RSM team to go to state.
Making seven straight state tournament appearances puts RSM in rare company along with another team in the 1A field, No. 2 seed North Linn. By making state this year, those two teams tied Cedar Rapids Regis for the third longest string of consecutive state tournament appearances. The only two with longer state tournament streaks are Iowa City West, who went to 10 in a row from 2011 through 2020, and Linn-Mar, who made nine straight from 2004 through 2012.
“It’s an amazing run. This just doesn’t come to you. The boys put the work in,” said RSM co-Head Coach Justin Ruden. “They get no break. A couple days is all they had and then they had to be right into basketball season from football. It takes a commitment from them and they earned it. I’ve said you don’t deserve things in life, you earn stuff in life and they earned it tonight.”
Gehlen Head Coach Mike Langel said his team’s effort was good, but shots weren’t falling in the team’s lowest scoring output of the season.
“They played hard. That’s all you can ask from anybody and our kids did that,” Langel said.
The two teams traded baskets for much of the first quarter in a competitive start which saw the Hawks hold a 12-11 advantage after the first stanza. RSM was able to hold a slim lead despite their leading scorer for the season, Jaxon Bunkers, picking up two quick fouls which led him to spend most of the first half on the bench.
“It was a rough start to the game for me and my team just stepped up big for me,” Bunkers said. “That’s what they do and it gave us the chance that second half to come out with the win.”
The two fouls to Bunkers were the only two called against the Hawks in the opening quarter, part of a clean first half which saw just seven total fouls assessed against the two teams.
With Bunkers on the bench, Cael Ortmann helped to pick up some of the slack as he scored half of the team’s first quarter points. Ryan Willman added a bucket and Collin Homan had two free throws to go along with a basket.
Ortmann said the rest of the team was ready to help out with Bunkers in foul trouble as the Hawks have had five different players finish as the team’s leading scorer in a game this season.
“We know any night any guy can be the leading scorer,” Ortmann said. “Jaxon just so happened to go out with two fouls in the first half and we just knew we had to get buckets. Teammates got me the ball and we just did our jobs and it worked out.”
Schroeder hit a 3-pointer in the second quarter to put RSM up 19-13. Gehlen was able to pull to within one with a long two from Keaten Bonderson and a 3-pointer from Drake DeRocher. A long two from Ortmann put the Hawks in front by three entering the intermission.
Gehlen pulls in front in third quarter before RSM answers
Ryan Augustine knocked down a 3-pointer then got a steal which turned into a layup as the Jays took a 25-24 lead. Augustine ended up with 11 points for the Jays.
The momentum continued in favor of the Jays at the end of the third quarter as Bonderson’s last-second shot from just inside of half court swished through the net to give the Jays a 31-26 lead entering the final quarter.
Along with a better offensive quarter, one adjustment came defensively in the third quarter to try to slow down Ortmann according to Langel. The Jays held the Hawks to just five points in the third quarter.
“I put Gabe Wiltgen on Ortmann. Ortmann hurt us in the first half. Gabe’s just got a little bigger body to try to absorb some of his movement and I thought he did a good job in the second half,” said Langel as Ortmann was limited to four points after halftime while scoring 10 in the first half.
Gehlen was unable to keep the momentum on their side into the fourth quarter. The Hawks got a couple outside shots to fall from some unlikely sources to help them take the momentum back. Landon Waldschmitt made just his sixth 3-pointer in 26 tries this season to pull the Hawks within two. Homan then stepped out to make his eighth in 16 attempts this season to give the Hawks a 36-35 lead.
“I know it surprises everybody, but he is actually one of our better shooters,” Ruden said of Homan knocking down a triple. “I think he has some records in our shooting drills we have, so it doesn’t surprise me. I’m just glad to see him step up with confidence in a big situation and really in a night that he was struggling, he kind of missed some of his normal makes around the rim because he was the focus.”
Homan finished with seven points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
While the shots were falling down for the Hawks, Gehlen couldn’t find an answer.
“We had that run in the third quarter and got out in front. They came down and hit a couple threes and got them momentum,” Langel said. “Then they got really big on the defensive end. They’ve got some nice length, they have a nice team. They’re hard to shoot over and that was effective in that fourth quarter. Once we missed a few, then the momentum really changed.”
Bunkers, who had just one point through the first three quarters, was able to help his team in their fourth quarter comeback. He had a pair of baskets and made all four free throw attempts on the 1-and-1 which helped the Hawks extend their lead. Bunkers finished with nine points in the game.
“The first three quarters we didn’t really play our basketball at all,” Bunkers said. “Credit to their defense, they got us doing what we don’t usually want to do, but the fourth quarter our coaches got us and said we need to go back to what we usually do and just attack the rim.”
Bonderson hit a late 3-pointer to make it a 44-38 game with less than a minute left. He finished the game with 12 points as the leading scorer for the Jays.
RSM put the final touches on the win at the free-throw line as their last nine points came from free throws. Five of Schroeder’s 10 total points in the contest came at the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been in a lot of tight situations at state and stuff, so we just knew we had to put those free throws in to put the game away,” Schroeder said as the Hawks ended 12-of-14 from the line compared to 3-of-6 for the Jays.
The 11 point final margin was just one point less than when RSM won 62-50 in December. Gehlen won the subsequent game in January by a 57-51 score.
Ortmann said it was a great feeling when the final buzzer went off.
“This is the best atmosphere you’ll ever get in high school basketball. Two rivals going at it to the end. It was just a great game,” Ortmann said.
Gehlen says goodbye to Langel, large senior class
As Gehlen lost to finish their season at 20-6, the Jays said goodbye to longtime coach Mike Langel and 10 senior players.
Langel said it was his wish to end his career with this group.
“I knew when I was going to step down, I wanted to step down with this class,” Langel said. “They’re a special class, the seniors are, and the juniors, too. I just felt comfortable all year with that decision. I knew sometime or another it was going to come to an end, unless we went all the way, but I’m happy. I’m happy for my time to coach kids and have the opportunity to coach a lot of awesome athletes and awesome kids and awesome families. It’s just been a pleasure to coach at Gehlen. It’s worth every second I spent there.”
The senior class is comprised of Eric Scheitler, Keaten Bonderson, Daniel Kleich, Keaton Logan, Drake DeRocher, Cameron Corbin, Zayne Weiland, Carter Kellen, Connor Kraft and Ryan Augustine.
“There’s 10 of them and they’re all super individuals. Not very often a 1A school graduates 10 basketball players. I honestly never had one bit of trouble with not a one of the 10. Of course they’re laced with some nice talent,” Langel said.
All of Gehlen’s scoring in the game came from seniors as along with the double digit outputs from Bonderson and Augustine, the team received seven points from Logan, five from Kraft and three from DeRocher.
RSM turns attention to state tournament
For the seventh straight year, the Remsen St. Mary’s basketball program will be playing at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines at the state tournament.
The Hawks (22-2) secured the No. 6 seed and will face third-seeded Gladbrook-Reinbeck (23-2) at 3:45 p.m., Monday.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck returns to state for the fourth time. They made it three years in a row from 2015 through 2017, winning a championship in the first and taking runner-up in the last.
Remsen St. Mary’s has won their quarterfinal round game four of their previous six trips to state, but have never won in the semifinals.
“We remember the last three years going down there and losing,” Ortmann said. “It’s the worst feeling we got and we just wanted another opportunity to go down there and show the state what we have.”