SERGEANT BLUFF | This afternoon, if his team has a fourth-quarter lead against Oskaloosa or faces a deficit that is relatively close, Adam Vander Schaaf likes its chances.
A Class 3A state tournament qualifier for the second straight year, Sergeant Bluff-Luton (last year’s 3A state runner-up) has demonstrated in each of the last two games that it is competitive in the game’s final eight minutes, continuing a trend that began about a month earlier. Conner Groves’ fourth-quarter assist on Sam DeMoss’ 3-point connection from the left corner with 2:05 left led the charge in a 76-66 Substate 1 title win over No. 10 Bishop Heelan, followed by 8 of 8 free throw shooting.
During a 52-44 semifinal win over No. 6 Spirit Lake, the Indians made three consecutive treys to take a 44-42 lead with 3 ½ minutes left. DeMoss, one of the Warriors’ four double-figure scorers, responded with a three of his own that launched a 10-0 run that concluded the game.
“We have a group of kids who are competitors and are not afraid of moments,” said Vander Schaaf, whose 15-9 squad enters the 4:30 battle against Oskaloosa (21-3) riding a nine-game winning streak.
“Aside from one game, we’ve had a chance to win every game in the fourth quarter. It brought our team’s spirits up knowing if we had the lead midway through the fourth quarter, it was still anybody’s game. It helped us be resilient. We knew we weren’t far off. What it took was winning those tight games against good teams. It started with the win over East that started our winning streak. Then we got the job done. Time after time, we got better and we could see the confidence build.”
Groves, a 6-foot-1 junior with a 15.3 scoring average, is one of two returning starters from last year’s 17-10 squad. So is 6-3 senior Ty Boekelman (6.5 ppg), while DeMoss (11.2 ppg) was a valuable reserve for a team that, in its state tournament debut, won six straight games (four against state-ranked teams) prior to falling 54-49 in the title game to Cedar Rapids Xavier.
Vander Schaaf hopes the Warriors can capitalize on last year’s state tournament experience. Groves (63 3-point goals), who scored 26 points against Heelan, has averaged 16.6 points in the winning streak and has made 29 of 53 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc.
Jeremiah Khat (13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg), a 6-4 senior, is coming off a 20-point, 9-rebound effort against Heelan. Khat, who averaged 12.6 points the season before while helping Siouxland Christian reach the Class 1A substate finals, has reached double-figure scoring in each of his last 10 games.
Daniel Wright (10.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg), a 6-6 sophomore, is shooting a team-best 54.6 percent which includes 38 of 86 3-point attempts. DeMoss is shooting 51.6 percent and will start along with Wright, DeMoss, Khat and Boekelman.
“Daniel joined us late last season, though he was not in the rotation, but got to be part of last year’s experience,” said Vander Schaaf. “So we have four guys who have gone through it before. They’ll help the others understand what it was like and what a neat experience it is.”
Oskaloosa is the tallest team in the entire 32-team state tournament field.
The Little Hawkeye Conference champions feature 6-11 sophomore Xavier Foster (12.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 85 blocked shots, 62.4 FG percent), 6-9 junior Cole Henry (15.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 14 blocked shots, 59 FG percent) and 6-5 senior Jarad Kruse (15.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 62.4 FG percent).
Oskaloosa is shooting 55.7 percent as a team. The tall trio has combined for 41 3-pointers and an array of dunks, according to video Vander Schaaf has seen.
“They’ve put together a pretty good dunk reel,” laughed Vander Schaaf. “Kruse, Foster and Henry, they all get up in traffic and throw it down. It’s on video we have watched. They’re a unique team with their length. They’re athletic.
“It’s something we have to deal with and hopefully we’ll find a way to play to our strengths. We’ll have to work to get our shots and the right shots on every possession. (Opposing) teams have tried different things. They’re 21-3 for a reason. On the other hand, we hope we can bring something different to the table than they have seen.”