MALVERN - After storming through the Corner Conference with a near perfect record and winning its first ever conference tournament title the East Mills boys basketball team did something it hadn't done in 39 days last Tuesday.
Council Bluffs St. Albert used a stifling, aggressive full-court defense to hold the Wolverines without a basket the final six minutes of the game and end their 12-game winning streak in a 60-43 victory to advance to the Class 1A, District 16 championship.
“They're just so athletic,” said East Mills coach Kevin Schafer of the 16-4 Falcons. “You can't mirror that kind of pressure in practice. I was just glad our kids adjusted as well as they did.”
After turning the ball over seven times in the first quarter and trailing 19-9, East Mills got under control and managed to trim the Falcons' lead to 27-22 at the half.
A pair of free throws by Jake Bolton further cut into that lead to open the third quarter but St. Albert responded. Layups by Paul Johnson and Jake Waters and a three pointer by Stephen O'Neill gave the Falcons a 34-24 with just over six minutes remaining in the frame.
East Mills, however, battled back. A pair of three pointers by Jake Doyle, who led the Wolverines with 19 points, and two free throws by Dylan Larsen trimmed the margin to 42-36 with just over a minute to go in the third quarter.
But that's as close as the Wolverines would get. St. Albert extended its lead to as many as 18 points in the fourth quarter to pull away.
“We wore down some, there's no doubt about that,” said Schafer.
The Wolverines played the final quarter and a half without starting center Jake Bolton, who left the game with a shoulder injury and did not return.
“Jake Bolton has had shoulder problems all season long and his shoulder popped out. We get pretty small without him on the floor. He's one of our best players,” Schafer said.
During football season Bolton, an all-state quarterback for the Wolverine football team, injured his right (throwing) shoulder. On Tuesday, Bolton dislocated his left shoulder when he was fouled on his way to the basket and landed awkwardly. Bolton managed to hit both of his free throws but came out a few minutes later and did not return.
“It popped out and popped right back in but he was just in so much pain he couldn't go back out,” said Schafer. “That definitely made a difference and we had other guys get into foul trouble so we had some guys playing positions maybe they didn't usually play. But I thought our kids battled from beginning to end and that's what we asked them to do.”
Doyle did his best to keep the Wolverines in it. The senior guard, who was named a consensus All-Corner Conference first teamer earlier this week after leading the league in three pointers (52) and averaging a team-best 14 points, hit 5-of-9 threes against the Falcons, each one coming when his team seemed to need it most.
“He's been our best player all season, there's no doubt about that,” said Schafer. “He's an excellent three-point shooter. Every time it looked like St. Albert was pulling away he hit some key shots to give us a boost and keep it at about eight or 10 points and keep us in the game.”
But Doyle's night was not enough to overcome the Falcons, or leading scorer Jake Waters. The senior forward led all-scorers with 23 points, scoring inside and outside, and grabbing eight rebounds.
“He can hit the three and inside he can jump over you,” said Schafer. “In our conference there really isn't anybody who can jump over Bolton and Waters could. I've seen them play once and on film so we knew how athletic he was.”
The Wolverines shot 42.8 percent (15-of-35) from the field and had 17 turnovers compared to the Falcons' seven. St. Albert also grabbed 13 steals.
“They're a little bit like Treynor but even more athletic,” said Schafer comparing the Falcons to the last team to beat his team, way back on Jan. 14. “Treynor gave us a taste (of pressure defense) but they (St. Albert) took it to another level. They're very athletic. They might not shoot it quite as good as Treynor from the outside but they're athleticism is very good.
“I was proud of the way our kids competed. We passed the ball, we had some opportunities we blew inside, but I thought, for the most part, we did about as well as we could. The kids didn't back down from beginning to end. We competed. That's what we asked them to do. We played to win. We just didn't want to show up.”
East Mills finishes its season 17-4 overall and 8-1 in the conference.