Highland's winning streak comes to an end
RIVERSIDE — With 12 seconds left in the third quarter of Thursday’s Southeast Iowa Super Conference North Division basketball game, Highland had the ball and a chance to cut into Mediapolis’ four-point lead.
But Mediapolis senior Caleb Gerst intercepted a pass and threw the ball ahead to teammate Jordan Wagenbach, who dribbled out to the left wing and hit a fall-away 17-footer just before the buzzer.
“It was luck more than anything, I feel like,” Wagenbach said of the shot.
Wagenbach’s bucket gave the Bulldogs a six-point lead and a lot of momentum heading into the fourth quarter. Mediapolis went on to defeat Highland 58-49.
“That’s a big basket,” Mediapolis head coach Greg Worrall said of Wagenbach’s buzzer-beater. “Baskets at the end of the quarter are momentum builders. They just kind of break the spirit of the other team.”
But Highland (13-6, 11-6 SEISC North) made one more run at the visitors in the final stanza. Mediapolis scored the first two baskets of the fourth quarter to open up a 10-point lead, but junior Josh Brase hit a leaner, senior Talon McFarland made a pair of free throws and senior Jake Hootman put back a missed shot to trim the Bulldogs’ lead to four with 2:16 remaining.
Wagenbach made two free throws on the other end, however, and the Huskies got no closer than six points the rest of the way.
“We made a lot of pushes, but could just never make that shot or that big-time play to turn the corner,” Highland head coach Marcus Hall said. “I thought we played tough in the second half. Some games just don’t go your way.”
Wagenbach scored 23 points to lead Mediapolis (13-6, 13-4 SEISC North), which won its fourth straight game and stayed ahead of Highland for third place in the conference.
“They were right behind us in the conference, so this was a big game for us to win,” Wagenbach said.
Gerst added 14 points for the Bulldogs, and senior Dalton Scott had 10.
Hootman scored a game-high 24 points to lead the Huskies, and he also grabbed 11 rebounds. McFarland added 13 points and 10 boards.
Highland’s seven-game winning streak came to an end on Thursday night, but it’s clear that the Huskies are playing better ball as the postseason approaches.
“We have senior leaders stepping up and we have a couple of good juniors. We have a whole bunch of kids coming off the bench stepping up, too. This is a good year for us. It kind of stinks that our streak had to end tonight,” Hootman said.
Both teams came out shooting well to start the game, and the contest was tied at 19 after one quarter of play. But the Bulldogs held Highland to just four points in the second quarter as they built a 12-point halftime lead.
“They scored 19 in the first quarter, and we scored 19, too. So offensively we looked good, but defensively we were just flat to start the game,” Worrall said. “In that second quarter I thought we did a much better job of being in help position and guarding the ball. We’re trying to take a little pride in our defense, and we did a much better job. When you give up four points in the second quarter, that’s a big defensive effort.”
Wagenbach and Gerst hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 10-0 run and give the Bulldogs a 34-21 lead late in the second quarter.
“They just went on a roll,” Hootman said. “They were knocking down big shots. We weren’t talking and communicating. We can’t do that. Against good teams like that, they just knock down shots. They had a 10-0 run on us, and after that we had to play catch-up.”
The Huskies nearly caught up in the third quarter. McFarland scored the first five points of the second half, and after a three-point play by Wagenbach, Hootman scored six straight points to pull the Huskies within four. Gerst hit a runner, but Hootman knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the lead to three. And a pair of free throws by Highland junior Colin Sexton pulled the Huskies to within two with 1:16 left in the third quarter.
But they would get no closer, as Mediapolis senior Micah Hales made two free throws and then Wagenbach beat the buzzer.
“It was huge,” Hall said of Wagenbach’s shot. “We had the ball with 12 seconds left and wanted one shot there. We got in a rush and threw it away, and he came down and hits a jumper. That’s just a huge swing.”