(Atlantic) East Mills and Nodaway Valley traded punches from start to finish as the two teams battled to determine which squad would continue their season into the state tournament at Wells Fargo Arena next week. Thirty-two minutes of regulation wasn't enough to determine who that representative would be as the big crowd at Saturday's substate final got their money's worth to say the least.
Both teams opened up hot from the field in a high scoring first quarter. Nodaway Valley went on a 9-0 run to lead 20-12 late in the first, but East Mills responded by closing out the frame on a 10-0 spurt to nab a 22-20 lead heading to the 2nd.
Nodaway Valley's strong three point shooting had the back-to-back state qualifiers on top for much of the 2nd quarter. Leading scorers TJ Bower (15) and Jackson Lamb (12) combined for 27 first half points, but East Mills kept it close with 2nd-chance points and were able to limit turnovers against an aggressive Nodaway Valley defense. East Mills' balanced scoring attack in the first half led to a 34-all tie at the break. Keegan Wederquist scored 9 of his 14 points in the first half as East Mills closed the first half on a 6-2 advantage to knot things up.
Jacob Schafer's big 2nd half helped East Mills take the edge for much of the third quarter. Schafer at 13 of his team high 15 points after the break. Nodaway Valley kept the opponenent at bay though, and eventually took their first lead of the 2nd half late in the fourth quarter. Jackson Lamb's two free-throws with :37 left gave Nodaway Valley a 59-57 lead which would hold until the closing seconds. East Mills called a timeout with about :05 to go and inbounded the ball to Michael Story at half court. Story attacked the basket and missed a runner in the lane, but Noah Meyer had just enough time to crash the offense boards and hit the putback to send the game to overtime.
East Mills scored the first four points of overtime and had Nodaway Valley playing catchup during the entire extra session. Jacob Schafer hit three key free throws down the stretch, but with neither team ever leading by more than 8 points all night, fans new this one was coming right down to the final horn. Schafer's last free throw put East Mills up by 7 points approaching :10 to play, that's when Nodaway Valley nearly pulled off the unthinkable. TJ Bower hit a pull-up three and Nodaway Valley called a timeout to stop the clock with :05 left. East Mills turned it over on the inbounds pass and Nodaway Valley's Zack Plymesser hit a corner three with 2.5 seconds left to cut it to a one point game (66-65). East Mills went for a home run pass and got it into Noah Meyer who was fouled with less than two seconds left. Meyer missed the front end of the one-and-one free throw and TJ Bower collected the rebound. Bower's three-quarter court heave at the buzzer appeared to have right distance but was off by maybe only as much as one foot to the right. East Mills prevailed 66-65.
They head to the state tournament for the first time since Nishna Valley qualified in 1993. They'll go into the tourney with a 23-3 overall record. Nodaway Valley's bid for a third straight state appearance falls just short. Nodaway Valley ends up at 22-3 overall. They wave goodbye to another strong senior class, four of them were starters. Bower, a four year starter, finished the night with 22 points. Zach Plymesser scored 10, Delson Grantham had 8 points plus a very big night on the boards. Caleb Mueller scored 6, he hit a big three for Nodaway Valley to tie the game at 48-all late in the third.
Both coaches were understandably emotional at times following a game of such magnitude. You can hear all of their postgame comments be following the links below.
Click here for the postgame with East Mills coach Kevin Schafer
Click here for the postgame with Nodaway Valley coach Darrell Burmeister