DES MOINES | Caleb Terhark has already made plans for a return trip to Wells Fargo Arena.
Terhark is one of three juniors who will return as starters next season to perhaps give George-Little Rock’s boys basketball team an opportunity to make a longer run in the Class 1A state tournament.
“We’ll be back here next year,” said the 6-foot-3 junior forward, who scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Mustangs in Monday’s 60-57 first-round loss to Gilbertville Don Bosco.
“Next year, we should be pretty good. We’ll lose two seniors (Josh Haken, Jayden Mauldin), but everyone else is coming back. We’ll have more experience.”
Terhark buried a pair a pair of free throws with 4:56 left in the game as George-Little Rock (19-7), playing in its first 1A state tournament since losing 49-44 to Cedar Falls Northern University High in the 2008 title game, knotted the game 48-all.
Terhark also gave the third-place team from the Siouxland Conference hope as he drained the squad’s sixth 3-point basket of the game with 20 seconds left to pull within 58-54. The Mustangs, co-head coached by Greg De Boer and Brian Luenberger, had exchanged leads eight times in the first quarter, but Don Bosco went on a 10-2 run in the final 3 minutes, 9 seconds of the second frame to take a 36-25 halftime lead.
If there’s anything that De Boer has learned about this season’s team, is has heart. George-Little Rock, which also received double-digit point totals from senior Haken (12) and junior Landon Jumbeck (10) still had a chance for a game-tying 3-point basket in the game’s final 9.8 seconds, but Haken’s shot at the buzzer fell short.
“We got where we wanted at the end,” said Terhark. “In the fourth quarter, we had it cut to four, which was our goal because we were down by 11 at halftime. We cut it to four, but the last shot didn’t go. That’s how it goes.”
The closest the Mustangs came at the end was 59-57 on Haken's offensive rebound basket with 10.8 seconds left. The Dons’ Zach Huff gave Terhark and his teammates one last chance as he made one of two free throws one second later.
“We had a pick off the top and we were trying to get to Josh Haken for a 3 up there and our next option was to get to the corner,” said De Boer. “We didn’t have enough time to get there. We had to take the shot that we needed to and unfortunately, we came up short.
“We feel we’re just going to reload. We think we’re going to be all as good next year, if not better, because Brian and I as co-coaches, we took this program over about the first of October. So we didn’t have a lot of time with these kids. We hope to have the whole summer to teach them things and we’ll be better because we’ll have more time with the kids.”
Playing at state for the first time since 1988, Don Bosco (23-3) received 17 points from slippery 5-11 junior guard Jack Kelley. Zach Huff and Sean McFadden each added 10 for the Dons, who saw Kelley make two straight baskets to snap the 48-48 tie as the Iowa Star Conference co-champs took the lead for keeps.
Kelley then combined with Huff and Cael Tenold to make 8 of 10 free throws in the game’s final minute and a half.
“We’ve been a great free throw shooting team all throughout the year,” said Kelley. “We don’t like running in practice, so we have to make them. We have a lot of guys with a lot of varsity experience. They know when it’s their turn, helping on the line, they can sink it when they need to.”
Defense was also a key for Don Bosco, a school which so far this year won the eight-man football state title and won the Class 1A dual meet wrestling state title. The Dons had a 32-30 edge on the boards and held the Mustangs to chilly 30.3 percent first-half shooting.
“We’re a battle-tested team and we were ready to play,” said De Boer. “Nothing to take away from Don Bosco, they would have battled in the Siouxland (Conference) really well this year. They play really hard. Our kids kept battling and we at least had a shot in the end to tie the game. We just couldn’t get over the hump. We got it tied, but we couldn’t get over the hump to take the lead.”