LE MARS, Iowa | If you were a fan of defensive boys basketball, you would have witnessed a thriller at Marvin Langel Memorial Gymnasium Friday night.
Third-ranked Remsen St. Mary’s has hung its hat on defense just like last year’s 25-2 team which finished fourth at the Class 1A state tournament. The War Eagle Conference leaders held Le Mars Gehlen under 20 points five minutes into the third quarter while preserving its lead.
Gehlen went into the game limiting opponents to 50.7 points per game and for the sixth time this year, held an opponent under 50 points. The Jays applied tough pressure defense in the game’s final two minutes, but Remsen St. Mary’s handled it well for the most part, improving its season record to 12-0 following a 44-35 victory.
Nicholas Ruden scored 18 points for Remsen St. Mary’s, which won, despite chilly 31.2 percent (15 of 48) field goal shooting. Ruden became the Hawks' all-time leading scorer with his 14th point of the night, going past Jacob Wesselmann who graduated last year.
Cole Wiltgen’s steal/layup combination off Gehlen’s press with 1:32 left to pulled his team within 37-33, was part of his 18-point performance, but his team was held to 27.9 percent (12 of 43) shooting.
“They’re a good team and they pressed us well,” said Ruden. “We were intrigued. They got us out of order. We’re usually a team that can handle a press, but they got some big guys with length that kind of disrupted us.
“I feel like our guards that were out here handed it well. We got through it. We fought through it. We won the game and I couldn’t be prouder of my teammates.”
Caden Kneip and Brady Livermore hassled Remsen St. Mary’s sophomore Spencer Schorg (12 points) when the younger brother of Briar Cliff University forward Blake Wiltgen picked his pocket while recording his second steal/layup combination of the game for the Jays.
Gehlen (7-5) had basically trailed since late in the first quarter when Remsen St. Mary’s went on a 9-0 run to close the first quarter, holding the home team scoreless in the frame’s final 5 ½ minutes. The WEC leaders erased an early 7-2 deficit by going on a 9-0 run in the final 5:09 of the opening quarter, taking an 8-7 lead on a Ruden 3-pointer.
Later in the frame, reserve Mitchell Schiltz hit a trey after a Gehlen turnover. Then, on the ensuing possession after a Ruden basket to begin the second quarter, Brody Ricke, another returning starter from last year’s state tournament team, recorded a steal and hit a 10-footer for a 16-9 lead.
Remsen St. Mary’s never trailed again, but like Gehlen, struggled in the shooting department. The Hawks had numerous chances to stretch a narrow six-point lead during a game that featured three players with eight rebounds – Ruden, Wiltgen and 6-foot-5, 270-pound North Dakota State football recruit Brian Nohava.
Off the bench, Mitchell Schiltz grabbed seven rebounds for the Hawks, one more than teammate Carter Kuchel. Remsen St. Mary’s has limited opponents to 39.6 points and 34.2 percent field goal shooting in its undefeated season, but even Coach Scott Ruden, whose team won despite 3 of 7 free throw shooting in the game’s final 25 seconds, was expecting a defensive battle.
“A good game, very physical,” said Coach Ruden. “We expected it to be. I thought we’d score a little more. We didn’t shoot real well. We knew it was going to be a defensive battle. To tell you the truth, all season we’ve been hanging our hats on defense. That’s how we win. That’s our specialty.”
Gehlen Coach Mike Langel also expected a defensive battle.
“That’s one thing Coach Ruden has done, he’s taught them how to play defense,” said Langel. “We knew we’d have a hard time scoring in our halfcourt. We knew we had to have good possessions and we knew every bucket would be big. It turned out they had the same. We played some good defense too. It came down to the end. Our guys left it on the floor tonight.”