GOOSE LAKE - Knowing it was going to be one of the toughest tests his team had faced all winter long, Anamosa boys’ basketball coach Kevin Barnes was comforted in the fact that his Raiders were playing some of their best ball leading up to the colossal class 2A district championship game against 10th-ranked West Branch Tuesday, Feb. 23, in Goose Lake.
In fact, he was completely confident his team could pull off the upset and reach the substate final round for the second time in the last five years.
It just about came to fruition, too, as Anamosa led throughout the entire first half but could not quite put the Bears away in the second dropping a heartbreaking and season-ending 51-42 final.
“At halftime the first time we played West Branch we were behind 36-24 and felt very fortunate to be there, and that was without their all-conference player (Jeff Bowie) in the line-up,” said Barnes, as his team was handed a 76-64 loss back on Dec. 19.
“So, to say we have come a long ways since December is an understatement and such a tribute to our kids. I couldn’t be more proud of a team and the way they have grown and come together. I just really enjoyed coaching this group of young men and I am so disappointed that I don’t get to go to practice with them tomorrow.”
After junior Grahm Humpal drilled a 3-pointer at the 6:54 mark of the opening quarter, the Raiders never trailed in a phenomenally played first half, but coming out of the break, West Branch looked to flip the script.
“West Branch is so aggressive with their zone and they just want to speed you up on offense,” said Barnes, as his team led 25-24 at the half.
“I thought our kids were outstanding in the first half of not letting that happen. We moved the ball so well in the first half and really made them guard. The first possession of the game was so impressive. We moved the ball for more than a minute and then Grahm hit that 3. I thought that really set the tone for the first half.”
When West Branch’s Simon Palmer connected for a shot 30-seconds into the second half, it appeared the Bears were looking to set a tone of their own giving his team a lead for the first time all night (26-25).
But Anamosa would not go away that easily.
West Branch, with some serious help from the officials who whistled the Raiders for six fouls in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter (while none were called on the Bears) stretched their lead as many as four points on a couple of occasions before Anamosa senior Caleb Otting connected for a huge 3-pointer with 4:34 to play in the third, cutting the Bears’ lead to 31-30.
Eli Lehrman and Sam Wilt added third quarter field goals as the Raiders headed into the final frame trailing 36-34.
“The second half West Branch extended their zone and I thought it caused us to lose our flow on offense a little bit, and we had some foul issues to deal with,” Barnes said. “Caleb hit a huge 3, Grahm hit a runner and then Grahm hit Sam on a lob pass as the quarter ended.
“I felt like we survived the third quarter and I really felt good going into the fourth.”
Barnes and the Raiders felt even better when Wilt opened the final eight-minute stretch drilling a clutch 3-pointer giving Anamosa a 37-36 lead at the 7:02 mark and sending a huge throng of Raider fans into a euphoria.
Unfortunately, it would be the final time the Raiders would hold the lead the rest of the way.
“When Sam hit that 3 to give us the lead, I thought we might be on our way,” Barnes said. “But from there, points just didn’t come for us.”
West Branch answered Wilt’s trey with a 6-0 run taking a 42-37 advantage at the 5:02 mark before Trae Klatt ended the Bears’ run with two free throws with 4:56 remaining.
“Trae hit those two free throws to get the score to 42-39, but the score stayed that way for over three-minutes,” Barnes said. “We had a couple of good looks during that stretch, but just couldn’t get them to drop.”
Neither team scored until the 1:52 mark when Gavin Hierseman drilled two free throws for the Bears, giving them a 44-39 lead.
Twenty-seconds later Wester Branch’s Holden Arnaman was at the line and connected on 1-of-2 to put the Bears up by six (45-39), then when he went back at the line again at the 1:09 mark and hit two more, the Bears were in control leading 47-39.
Anamosa connected for just their second field goal of the quarter when Klatt drilled a long trey with 47.2-seconds remaining to pull Anamosa to within five points at 47-42, but it would be the final points of the night for the Raiders as the Bears hit free throws in the waning seconds to claim the nine-point victory.
“We went over four minutes down the stretch without a point until Trae hit that 3 with under a minute to go,” Barnes said. “At that point, it was too little, too late.”
The loss ended the basketball careers for seniors Klatt, Otting, Andrew Morris, Zorrion Robertson, Seth Schoon, Sage Hoyt and Justin Tjaden.
“I feel for the seniors,” said Humpal, who paced Anamosa scoring 12 points in the game, including 10 in the first half.
“West Branch just stepped up in the second half and made shots, and we didn’t. I thought we got the looks we needed to get, we just weren’t able to make them like we did in the first half.
“It didn’t help that we turned the ball over a lot more in the fourth quarter too. That really limited the number of shots we were able to get and allowed them to get momentum on their side. All of that proved to be just too much to overcome.”
Wilt added 11 points for the Raiders while Klatt chipped in with seven. Otting and Morris added five points for the Anamosa offense.
The game couldn’t have started any better for Anamosa, as after Humpal drilled that early trey, he added two more in the opening eight-minute stretch as the Raiders led by as many as six points (13-7) in the frame before the Bears rallied to close it to two at the horn (13-11).
“We had a couple of long possessions and I just decided I had the open shots, I might as well take them,” Humpal said. “I thought we did a great job of moving the ball and stayed calm with the ball and really set the tone early. I just wish we could have found a way to finish it off. We played well enough to win, until that fourth quarter.”
Anamosa continued to hit shots and force West Branch turnovers in the second stanza as well as Wilt scored four straight points and the Raiders had their six-point lead back (17-11) before Morris, Humpal and Otting fueled another Anamosa run late in the quarter giving the visitors on the scoreboard a 25-18 lead (their biggest of the night) with 1:13 to play.
West Branch closed the half on a 6-0 run to trail 25-24 at the break.
“You hate to see any season end,” said Barnes, as his team closes the 2020-21 campaign with a 14-7 overall record.
“And this one was no exception. Our seniors deserve all the credit in the world for the successes we had this season, and they will be sorely missed.”