North Linn overtakes RSM in final minute as double digit lead disappears

Thursday, March 9, 2023
(Sentinel Photo By Allen Hamil) Remsen St. Mary’s seniors Ryan Willman, Jaxon Bunkers and Cael Ortmann hold the state semifinalist trophy after the team’s loss to North Linn by a 52-50 score Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena.

DES MOINES — Remsen St. Mary’s led their Class 1A state semifinal contest nearly the entire night against North Linn, but the Hawks saw their chance at their first title game appearance slip through their fingers in the final minute as the Lynx rallied from as many as 17 down in the game to win 52-50 on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena.

“It’s a really tough loss,” RSM senior Cael Ortmann said. “We were up a lot in the game. We respect the team we lost to. North Linn, they’re a helluva team, but I mean it just sucks to go out that way.”

Alex Schroeder opened the fourth quarter scoring for the No. 6 seeded Hawks with a 3-pointer to make it a 48-32 advantage. Remsen St. Mary’s added just two points in the final 7:38 as No. 2 seed North Linn ended the game on a 20-2 run.

Remsen St. Mary’s attempted just seven shots in the fourth quarter, as many as the Lynx made. While the team tried to burn clock with a double digit lead, it may have also taken the Hawks out of their offensive rhythm according to co-Head Coach Justin Ruden.

“I think it’s tough in these situations. You get down here and you have that 12-13 point lead, it’s sometimes tough to like know the fine line between controlling the basketball, controlling the tempo of the game and then just not attacking anymore,” Ruden said. “I think we kind of got caught in between there and it just really showed in that fourth quarter.”

A pair of 3-pointers from Breckyn Betenbender and Ty Pflughaupt cut the Lynx deficit to 10 before Jaxon Bunkers knocked down a shot to make it a 50-38 game with 5:24 left in what would be the final points of the contest for the Hawks as Bunkers finished with 10 points.

Mason Bechen got three points the hard way with a foul on the layup and subsequent free throw. Pflughaupt and Betenbender added two more 3-pointers to pull the score to within three. Bechen added a two in the paint to make it 50-49 as he finished with 10 points.

The final dagger came with 32 seconds left as Betenbender drained another 3-pointer to give the Lynx a 52-50 lead.

After missing their first three 3-pointers of the game, the Lynx ended 11-of-21 from 3-point range in the game, including 5-of-7 in the fourth quarter.

“We had a couple blown assignments of not recognizing. I think it was a little bit to do with some dead legs there in the moment, but we just didn’t recognize it,” Ruden said. “They were some deep threes, but you got to give hats off to them, they were able to knock them down.”

Pflughaupt, who ended as the team’s leading scorer with 19 points, made five threes. Betenbender added four more as he finished with 14 points.

“We know they’re a really good 3-point shooting team. I mean they average like 80 points a game. If they only came down with 50, I mean we did our job, we just couldn’t get the full job done. We maybe could have played up more, but there’s a lot of what ifs in that game,” Ortmann said.

The Hawks took a pair of timeouts to try to set up plays to score the tying or go-ahead basket. The team set up on the baseline with 3.6 seconds left as Bunkers got a shot off, but it was tightly contested and ended up just missing its mark to potentially send the game to overtime.

“My guy was under the hoop, that’s how they played defense on the out of bounds play,” Bunkers said. “So the plan was just to get it to Collin and Collin’s defender made a great play and switched and got out there on me before I could even get the shot up.”

Good start to game

After falling behind early in their quarterfinal round game, the Hawks did a much better job of coming out strong from the opening tip against the Lynx. After a pair of back-and-forth buckets, the Hawks began to pull away. Ryan Willman, who finished with 10 points, got a bucket to fall and Collin Homan got the hoop and the harm to convert a three-point play.

(Sentinel Photo By Allen Hamil) Ryan Willman puts up a shot in the lane over a pair of North Linn Defenders. Willman scored 10 points, one of four in double figures for the Hawks.

After Drew Ries came off the bench to score the only bench points of the night for either team, the Hawks went on an 8-0 run to close the first quarter and take a 17-6 advantage.

Ortmann and Bunkers knocked down 3-pointers while Willman added a two to lead to a timeout from the Lynx with just 24 seconds left in the first quarter.

For the Hawks, holding a team which averaged nearly 84 points per game to just six points in the first quarter was a huge accomplishment. Overall, Ruden said the defense played well, especially in the first three quarters.

“I thought our defense was incredible for the first half, first three quarters. I think we made them work for their points. The threes were extended a little bit out. They were able to knock them down and then kind of came out hot in that fourth quarter and things started rolling their way and we couldn’t adjust to it,” Ruden said.

The Hawks held a double digit lead for most of the second quarter as Ortmann sent the Hawks into the locker room with a 12 point lead with a 3-pointer for the final points of the first half. Ortmann finished with 12 points, all on a 4-of-9 shooting night from the perimeter.

“I just came out with confidence and you might as well, it’s the semifinal game. I wish a few more could have fallen, but I mean, that’s the way the game goes,” Ortmann said.

The Hawks maintained their double digit lead throughout the third quarter and were able to get up by as many as 17 on a pair of occasions including the first on a layup from Homan who finished with his second state tournament double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds.

The Hawks were able to limit North Linn’s leading scorer Tate Haughenbury to five points, well below his 16.7 points per game average, but he was able to give his team a glimmer of hope at the end of the third quarter with a 3-pointer which answered one by Schroeder, who finished with six points with his pair of threes.

(Sentinel Photo By Allen Hamil) Alex Schroeder shoots a 3-pointer from the corner. The senior made a pair from beyond the arc to finish with six points. He also finished second on the team with seven rebounds.

Say goodbye to seniors

The Hawks will say goodbye to five seniors, four of whom were starters. The fifth starter, sophomore Homan, said he’s going to miss this year’s group of seniors and will look to emulate them next year.

“They mean the world to me. They’ve taught me a lot along the way. I’m going to miss them. They know what they’re doing. They tell you what to do on the court and they’re just my brothers and I’m going to miss them,” Homan said. “I want to look to be a leader on our team next year, be like this senior class and push all the other kids to be at their best abilities and to get back down here and to win it all.”

Alex Schroeder, Cael Ortmann, Ryan Willman, Jaxon Bunkers and Kadden Groepper made up the group of seniors which made it to state all four years of high school, extending a streak that was already up to three by the time they were freshmen.

“Nobody else can probably do this year in and year out. We lose our starters and then the next year the next group steps up,” Bunkers said. “It’s just tradition that coaches get us ready every single year. A lot of people don’t believe in us, but we believe in each other and put the work in to get down here every year.”

Ruden said it was a great group to work with over the years.

“It’s tough in these moments. You lose a game like this, I think that’s what you look back on the most is you’re going to losing a good group of guys, sorry to get emotional with that, but the group of guys, you don’t want to define their careers on this moment, but what have they accomplished as a team and as a group,” Ruden said. “A lot of kids would dream for it, like even once, and they’ve been able to do it every single year and I wish them further success after sports and I think they’re just going to be good human beings, good men.”

The Hawks finish their season with a 23-3 record as a championship game appearance remains elusive for the program. The team has now gone 0-5 in state semifinal games. They lost to North Linn in the semifinals last year by a 56-46 score.

North Linn (26-0) will try to defend their Class 1A title as they will face Grand View Christian (26-0) in a rematch of last year’s title game which the Lynx won by a 52-48 final score. The Lynx are playing in a championship game for the sixth consecutive year. They won titles in 2019 (2A) and 2022 (1A) while losing the other three times.

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