CASCADE, Iowa — A hot start from the field by Nathan Moeller sent Clinton Prince of Peace on its way to an Iowa Class 1A district boys basketball title on Thursday.
But a comparatively young Easton Valley team didn’t go away quietly, overcoming a double-digit deficit to push the Irish in the fourth quarter before Prince of Peace pulled away at the line in the final minutes to earn a 60-49 victory.
"We knew in the end it would come down to defense. We knew we had to be up on them, and we knew we had to box out," said Moeller, who scored 15 of his 17 points in the first 10 minutes of the game as the Irish built a lead they did not relinquish.
Eight of Moeller’s points came during a 13-0 run which allowed Prince of Peace to overcome a 15-11 deficit the River Hawks’ Jessen Weber helped create by knocking down three 3-pointers in the game’s first four minutes.
The Irish opened a 24-15 lead before Nate Trenkamp ended a 6 1/2 minute scoring drought for Easton Valley.
"After we beat them the second time we faced them in the regular season, we knew they would bring a lot of intensity, just like we did after losing at their place in our first game," said River Hawks coach Dan Beck, whose team split a pair of six-point regular-season games with the Irish.
"We had to be ready from the start, and we got off to a decent start, but they came right back at us."
Prince of Peace maintained a 28-20 lead at halftime and extended its advantage to 37-24 with three minutes to go in the third quarter.
By that point, Moeller was on his way to a 13-rebound performance that complemented the defensive effort led by Patrick Mulholland on the perimeter that limited Easton Valley to one 3-point basket in the middle two quarters.
"That’s a tough, physical team that we played, and they shoot crazy 3s, just a great group of shooters on the perimeter," Prince of Peace coach Gerry Murphy said. "We knew we had to get a body on their shooters and not give them an inch. For the most part, we got that done."
The River Hawks (20-4) found their touch late in the third quarter, crafting a 16-5 run that included six of Cade Jargo’s team-leading 11 points and cut the Irish lead to 42-40 on a Curtis Hartung basket with 5 minutes, 29 second remaining.
"The guys did a good job of playing their way back into the game," Beck said. "We gave ourselves a chance, got it down to two and had a play called, but the shot just didn’t go down. Credit their defense, we missed a few we normally make."
A drive by Trenkamp kept Easton Valley within 45-42 with 3:16 left, but after a missed 3-pointer by the River Hawks on the next possession, the Irish answered.
Kaidon Larson was fouled as he scored and converted at the line to give Prince of Peace (19-3) a 48-42 advantage with 1:40 remaining.
Larson and the Irish lived at the line from that point on, hitting 12-of-14 free throws over the final 1:23, including Larson finishing off his 23-point game by connecting on 8-of-10 attempts at the stripe.
"The fourth quarter, we had to play every possession like it was the one we needed to win the game," Larson said. "They made us earn it and all our guys stepped up and did just that."
The Irish advance to an Iowa 1A substate game on Saturday against Dunkerton, which moved to 20-4 with a 61-50 win over Gilbertville Don Bosco. Initially scheduled as the first of two games in Manchester, Prince of Peace’s substate game has been moved to Midland High School in Wyoming, Iowa, and is now set for a 7 p.m. tipoff.