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Muskies-Wieskamp

Muscatine's Joe Wieskamp displays the state tournament-qualifying banner after the Muskies clipped Linn-Mar 58-55 in a Class 4A substate final Tuesday. Wieskamp had 36 points and 14 rebounds in the victory. 

Dave Chesling, Muscatine Journal

CEDAR RAPIDS — Outside of eastern Iowa, there are a lot of avid basketball fans across the state who never have seen Joe Wieskamp play. 

That is about to change.

Muscatine is headed to the state tournament for the first time in 16 seasons and just the third time in the past 58 years behind the future Iowa Hawkeye.

Wieskamp dropped in 36 points, including seven in the closing 46.4 seconds, to propel Muscatine past Linn-Mar 58-55 on Tuesday night in a riveting Class 4A substate final at the U.S. Cellular Center.

"There is no explanation for how amazing this feels, just knowing how much work I put in and this being my biggest goal of the season," Wieskamp said. "To finally get it done, it feels great."

Wieskamp, usually quiet and reserved, displayed considerable emotion and excitement as the Lions' Nolan Ruff's 3-point try missed the mark at the buzzer and his teammates celebrated near mid-court. 

After coming up short in substate finals each of the past two seasons, enduring a three-game losing skid in early January and stumbling by 19 points to Pleasant Valley in the regular-season finale, Muscatine regrouped in the postseason.

Wieskamp was the catalyst with his 16th 30-plus point game of the year and 31st of his career.

"We weren't going to let this one slip away," senior Josh Hutton said. "Most of these guys have been together since third grade. This is what we wanted, what we've always talked about."

In a back-and-forth tussle, Wieskamp knifed his way through the lane and gave the Muskies (16-8) the lead, 54-53, with a three-point play with 46.4 seconds remaining.

Linn-Mar (13-12) could not convert on its ensuing possession. Wieskamp grabbed his 14th rebound, was fouled and made two free throws to make it 56-53. Jacob Robertson answered with a jumper for Linn-Mar to draw it within one. 

Muscatine inbounded the ball to Wieskamp and he was fouled with 4.8 seconds left.

Already 12 of 13 at the foul line in the game, Wieskamp stepped up and buried both. 

"I focused a lot on free throws this season," said Wieskamp, shooting 84 percent from the line. "I knew it was my moment, and I had to take advantage of it. I knew if I hit those free throws, it could seal it. 

"I just locked in, stayed confident and knocked them down."

Muscatine called timeout. The plan was to foul up three, but Ruff was able to penetrate past Muscatine's defense into the front court and hoisted a shot from the top of the key. 

It grazed off the front of the rim, and the Muskies survived.

"I'm just so happy for Joe," Muscatine coach Gary Belger said. "He had this goal in mind, and he was determined to get it.

"I told the guys we were going to win tonight. There is just something with destiny."

Belger coached at Southeast Polk and recently was in Florida before coming to Muscatine. He's in his second year.

"I came all the way up here from Houston and gave up a $70,000 job for them," Belger said. "I wanted to end it this way with them getting to the state tournament."

Linn-Mar's Trey Hutcheson was equally as impressive as Wieskamp. The 6-foot-6 junior, who has received a lot of attention from mid-major Division I programs, had 35 points and 12 rebounds.

“I played hard, found my shots, and, thankfully, they went in,” Hutcheson said. “My teammates were getting me the ball. We just kept playing hard. Chipped away at their lead, got up by a little bit. We just didn’t do enough.”

Wieskamp had some timely help from his supporting cast.

Hutton converted a four-point play in the fourth quarter and knocked down two other free throws. Lex Hahn had a three-point play when Muscatine rallied from a six-point deficit in the final quarter. 

"It was a little bit of Joe, a little bit of family and a lot of defense," Hutton said. "Linn-Mar has really good shooters, so to hold that team to 55 points, that's not too bad. That was the key right there."

As a result, Wieskamp, who has scored an Iowa Class 4A-record 2,347 career points, and his teammates will play on the big stage at Wells Fargo Arena next Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Pairings will be released today.

Win or lose, Wieskamp's illustrious career will end in Des Moines.

"It is cool," Wieskamp said. "Any kid trying to make a run, you want people supporting you. You want to build a brand for yourself, and hopefully it is a good brand. 

"The more people that can see me play before I get to Iowa, it allows me to build that chemistry with them that will help."

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.