Thursday night's Class 3A, Region 1 semifinal between the Storm Lake High boys and Bishop Heelan wasn't for basketball purists, but there was good reason for that.
Both teams played tenacious defense, causing turnovers, tough looks and plenty of foul shots. The Crusaders made 22 of 27 free throws to earn a hard-fought 57-50 win.
"It wasn't pretty, kind of an ugly game," Heelan coach Tom Betz said after the game. "Neither team shot the ball well, but that was probably the result of both team's defenses.
"This was a bit of a scare for us, because Storm Lake played with great intensity and matched every run we had," Betz added. "Luckily for us, we matched their runs."
Storm Lake was within 34-26 at the last break but Heelan won the game in the fourth quarter at the free throw line. Heelan off-guard Clint Sargent made 19 of 21 from the line in the fourth quarter alone. He finished with a game-high 27 points, but was just three of 16 from the field
"Storm Lake contested every shot we had," Sargent said after the game. "I give all the credit to their defense; we had no easy looks and had to earn every point we got."
In a game of mini-runs, the Tornadoes came up just short.
"We answered every run they had except the one they had in the third quarter, and that was the difference," said SLHS coach Bob Grant.
"Their aggressiveness on offense was hard to defend without fouling," he added. "In our practices, we just can't duplicate that kind of aggressiveness."
Heelan vaulted to a 9-2 lead with 3 minutes, 36 seconds left in the first quarter, only to see the Tornadoes fight back and trail 13-6 after eight minutes. Heelan committed 6 turnovers in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, SLHS forward Aaron Clausen knocked down a three-point shot for a 16-12 deficit.
SLHS senior Derrick Randall, who ended his prep basketball career with 14 points, knocked down a shot from close range to make it 18-16.
After a flurry of turnovers by both teams, Heelan's 6-7 freshman Brennan Cougill scored on the first of a number of putbacks of offensive rebounds for a 20-16 Heelan lead.
The Tornadoes surged back with consecutive baskets by Jake Randolph and Logan Masters to forge a 20-20 tie with just 20 seconds left in the first half. Heelan forward Mike Bisinius canned a short jumper from the left baseline as the Crusaders led 22-20 at the half.
"We didn't really match their intensity in the first half," Sargent said. "I thought we did in the last two quarters; if we wouldn't have, we might not still be playing."
The Crusaders started the third quarter on 13-2 run for a 33-22 lead with 2:13 left in the quarter. The Tornadoes stayed in it with consecutive baskets by Randall and Masters.
Clausen came up with a rebound of a free throw miss and fed Randall inside for an easy basket. With 15 seconds left in the third quarter, Masters drove straight to the hoop and made a contested layup as the Tornadoes trailed just 34- 26 at the last break.
"We had our chances to take that lead at points throughout the game," Grant said. "We just didn't finish on some of our opportunities and we paid for it."
Heelan started the fourth quarter on a 4-0 run, with a free throw and a traditional three-point play by Sargent as the Crusaders led 38-26 with 6:58 left.
Sargent hit two free throws with 4:11 left for a 44-32 Heelan lead. The Tornadoes came back with a run. With 3:56 left, Clausen swished a three from beyond the arc. That was followed by a basket in the paint by Randall as the Tornadoes closed to within 44-37 with 3:24 left.
Betz called a timeout, but Spielman intercepted a Heelan pass and called timeout as he was going out of bounds.
When play resumed Randall scored again from in close, with SLHS within five at 44-39 with 2:55 left.
The Crusaders began milking the clock and a parade to the free throw line ensued.
Randall fouled out with 1:34 left and Sargent made two free throws. That was followed by a by a three-point shot by Heelan as it led 49-39 with 1:10 remaining.
Storm Lake made one last run, getting to within 55-48, but just 14 seconds remained. Sargent hit two more free throws and Masters ended the night with the second of his two slam dunks.
"We've been in a lot of close games, and I think that helped us tonight," Sargent said.
Masters led SLHS with 16 points, with Randall adding 14 and Clausen eight.
"It's a disappointing loss," said SLHS junior Spielman. "We just didn't shoot as well as we wanted, but I thought we really played hard, like we have all year.
"We're going to miss our seniors," he added. "They set great examples for our younger players and led by example with their great work ethic."
Following Sargent's 27, guard Joe Wendte and Cougill each netted 12 points. The Tornadoes were four of nine from beyond the arc and finished eight of 16 from the line.
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