DES MOINES -- All the people who don't believe this Bishop Heelan basketball team can win an unprecedented fourth consecutive state championship aren't really of any consequence.
The only people who need to believe are the talented teenagers who keep finding ways to win like they did Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Arena, prevailing in a 35-33 chess match with Northwest Iowa rival MOC-Floyd Valley, the team expected by so many to dethrone the Crusaders as Iowa's Class 3A kings.
Junior point guard Shane Graves tallied a team-leading 15 points and teammate Michael Malloy rode to the rescue in a big way after sitting out his team's 24 previous games while recovering from surgery on the right knee injury that also erased nearly all of his senior football season.
"Even if people didn't have confidence in us, we had confidence in each other,'' said the diminutive Graves, a quicksilver 5-10, 138-pounder who matched Paul Jacobson's four steals in a clash of impressive defenses. "All my teammates are my best friends and we have such a bond, it's just crazy. So, we knew we could do this.''
Unbeaten in 24 prior starts, top-seeded and No. 1-ranked MOC-Floyd Valley scored the first six points of a deliberate, half-court battle and didn't trail until 6-5 junior forward Kyle Heaton hit two free throws to put Heelan in front 34-33 with 1:10 to play.
Heaton, who backed up Graves with 11 points, scored the only subsequent point when he made the first of two more free throws with nine seconds remaining.
Meanwhile, MOC-Floyd Valley failed to score on its final eight possessions after 6-8, 225-pound Daniel Jansen's bucket from the low post gave the Dutchmen a 33-30 lead with 4:54 to play.
Coach Loren De Jong's team, which failed to convert any of 14 three-point shots, missed five free throws, including the front end of three one-and-ones, while missing three shots from the field and surrendering three turnovers.
"This one really hurts,'' said De Jong, seeing his team's season ended by Heelan for the sixth time in 12 years since the Crusaders dropped down to Class 3A. "We got all the looks we wanted. We got open shots, open looks with the people we wanted. We had people at the free throw line that we wanted. For whatever reason, the ball did not go in.''
Heelan, which has also had three of its seasons as a 3A team ended by the Dutchmen, won despite sinking only three of 18 three-pointers and losing the rebound wars, 34-24. And, much as he enjoyed seeing his team improve to 18-6, advancing into a 6:35 p.m. Thursday semifinal against either Western Dubuque of Epworth or Davenport Assumption, Heelan Coach Tom Betz felt De Jong's pain.
"I'm very happy, but I feel terrible for that guy (De Jong) and he's a very good friend of mine,'' said Betz, who is 224-51 in 11 seasons at the Heelan helm. "I wish it was somebody else.''
This is the sixth state tournament in a row for Betz and the Crusaders, a streak that equals the third longest in the event's 100-year history. Only two schools have been here more times consecutively and defending Class 4A champion Linn-Mar of Marion, which edged Heelan 49-46 on Jan. 7 in the CNOS Foundation Classic at Sioux City's Tyson Events Center, has the record with its ninth straight trip this week.
And, even though Graves wound up being the only holdover starter to return for the full season, Heelan became only the second of five schools with three straight championships to even make it back here (Palmer finished third in 1989 after reigning from 1986-88).
Taking the next step Tuesday probably wouldn't have been possible without Malloy, the running back headed for Iowa as a recruited football walk-on. A solid defender as a starter on the last two state championship teams, the 6-2 senior guard wasn't cleared to play until last Friday and still managed to log 19 minutes off the bench and a team-leading seven rebounds.
Two of those came on the same play as he came up with a clutch putback that pulled Heelan within 31-30 with 5:09 to play.
Meantime, he wound up being the Crusaders' best option for slowing down Jansen, the talented Augustana recruit who finished with 20 of his team's 33 points and also hauled down 10 rebounds.
"Michael comes in and he's a dude on the court,'' said Graves. "He worked his butt off to get to this position right here, doing therapy every day. For him to come in like that, it's just unbelievable.''
Justin Van Kalsbeek, a 6-6 junior, accounted for eight of MOC-Floyd Valley's 13 non-Jansen points while 6-3 senior reserve Jacob Conaway matched Jansen's game-high 10 rebounds, spearing seven of the 13 offensive caroms that helped keep the Dutch in front most of the way.
"For the most part, I think we played really good defense,'' said Jansen. "We got a lot of shots that we wanted, but we didn't shoot well. They just made a few more shots than we did.''
Aside from the combined 10 of 17 shooting by Jansen and Van Kalsbeek, the rest of the Dutch converted only two of 21 tries. That included an agonizing 0-for-8, all three-pointers, by Keegan Mulder, who came into the tournament with a state-leading 89 treys in just 183 attempts, a .486 percentage. And, Mulder had knocked in 12 threes in one game this winter, equaling the state record set in 2002 by Mason City's Jeff Horner, now the head coach of a West Des Moines Valley team that meets Sioux City East in a Class 4A matchup today.
BISHOP HEELAN (35)
Shane Graves 6-14 1-2 15, Cameron Farrell 2-5 0-0 5, Bryce Sweeney 0-2 0-0 0, KhleHeaton 3-6 5-6 11, Paul Jacobson 0-5 0-0 0, Keaton Slaughter 0-0 0-0 0, Michael Malloy 2-7 0-2 4. Totals 13-39 6-10 35.
MOC-FLOYD VALLEY (33)
Caleb De Haan 0-7 0-0 0, Keegan Mulder 0-8 0-2 0, Mitchell De Wit 0-0 0-0 0, Daniel Jansen 6-12 810 20, Justin Van Kalsbeek 4-5 0-0 8, Jacob Conaway 1-4 1-3 3, Trey Achterhoff 1-2 0-0 2, Ryan Christy 0-0 0-0 0, David De Haan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-38 9-15 33.
Bishop Heelan 9 6 11 9 -- 35
MOC-Floyd Valley 12 7 10 4 -- 33
3-point shots -- Heelan 3-18 (Graves 2-7, Farrell 1-4, Jacobson 0-5, Malloy 0-2), MOC-Floyd Valley 0-14 (Mulder 0-8, C. De Haan 0-4, Jansen 0-1, Achterhoff 0-1). Rebounds -- Heelan 24 (Malloy 7), MOC-Floyd Valley 34 (Jansen 10, Conaway 10). Assists -- Heelan 6 (Slaughter 2), MOC-Floyd Valley 1 (Van Kalsbeek 1). Turnovers -- Heelan 14, MOC-Floyd Valley 16. Total fouls -- Heelan 17, MOC-Floyd Valley 14. Fouled out -- None.