DES MOINES — Joe Wieskamp remembers what the last two state tournaments were like, only he wasn’t a participant in either of them.
“The last couple of years I’ve come up here and watched the state tournament,” Wieskamp said, “Just wishing I could be out there. This year I was finally able to go out there and do it and it lived up to the expectations.”
Wieskamp certainly lived up to the expectations in his long-awaited trip to Wells Fargo Arena as a senior.
The Muskie standout scored 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and he even willed Muscatine back from a double-digit halftime deficit against No. 1 Iowa City West, trimming a 10-point hole to just one by the end of the third quarter.
But Patrick McCaffery scored the first five points of the quarter for West to spark a run and Muscatine ultimately fell 62-50 to end its season.
“We tried to rush things a little too much,” head coach Gary Belger said.
McCaffery and the Trojans opened up the fourth quarter on a 14-2 run to pull away from the Muskies.
“They pulled away in the first couple minutes of the fourth and we couldn’t fight back from that,” Wieskamp said.
Tuesday’s loss marked the end of Wieskamp’s career. He will go down as the best player in Muscatine school history as well as one of the best players to ever play high school basketball in Iowa.
He holds the Iowa Class 4A record for points scored with 2,376 and his 803 points this year are the most in a single season ever in Class 4A, even though he missed a game.
On top of that, Wieskamp finished with 908 career rebounds, which ranks fifth all-time in Class 4A.
“I think my statistics showed I’ve improved my game each season and my body shows it too,” Wieskamp said. “My freshman year I was more of a shooter, I wasn’t very strong. As the years went on I progressed physically."
Though the Iowa commit missed all four of his 3-point attempts, Wieskamp's ability to get to the rim and senior Lex Hahn’s six first half points kept the Muskies (16-9) within 10 points, 29-19, at halftime, despite the Trojans (20-4) sinking five of their eight 3-pointers.
“I knew it could be the last game so I had to put everything into it,” said Hahn, who finished with 12 points. “I knew I had to do it so I did it.”
Wieskamp took it to another level in the third quarter, scoring 11 points. They all came on layups, and most of them came off ball screens by senior Antonio Melendez to get a smaller guard switched on to Wieskamp.
“That was our game plan from the beginning,” Wieskamp said. “We knew there were going to double me the whole game and sag off Antonio.”
Melendez chipped in on the offensive end, too, and converted a 3-point-play after a goaltending on West to cut the score to 38-37 after three quarters, much to the delight of the pack of students who packed six pep buses to Des Moines.
“I want to give a special thanks to our student body,” Belger said. “All the years I’ve been coaching this is the best group of students I’ve had.”
Outside of playing a good offensive game, Hahn was effective in guarding McCaffery, also an Iowa commit. But West turned up the defensive pressure to start the fourth and McCaffery got loose in transition to spark the West run that put Muscatine out of reach.
McCaffery finished the game with 17 points and nine rebounds.
“We talked about how we could better defend Joe but that’s kind of impossible,” McCaffery said. “It was our defense that we really wanted to work on to keep Joe out of the paint.”
Although Wieskamp’s career is over along with the Muskies season, he takes pride in just how far the program has come in his time as a Muskie. He remembers back to the 7-15 season as a freshman and noted that Muscatine has won at least 15 games each of the last three seasons.
He hopes that upward trajectory can continue.
He’ll remember the struggles Muscatine went through this season, and is proud of how the team was able to turn it around, buy in and make a postseason run.
But most of all, he’ll remember playing high school basketball with his best friends and ending his career in Wells Fargo Arena, just like he always hoped.
“It’s going to be tough not going to practice every day with them, joking around with them in the locker room,” Wieskamp said. “I’m going to miss them a lot.”