WYOMING, Iowa — Gerry Murphy has been the basketball coach at Clinton’s Prince of Peace High School for 17 years and he had been in this spot before.
His team was scrambling to hold onto a slender lead in the Class 1A substate championship game and some determined kids from Dunkerton were making things difficult.
“We’ve had some really good teams that got beat in substates and district finals on last-second shots,’’ Murphy said. “I was thinking ‘Oh no, here we go again.’’’
He needn’t have worried.
His players held Dunkerton scoreless through the final 65 tension-filled seconds Saturday and held on for a history-making 63-60 victory over the Raiders in front of an overflow crowd at Midland High School.
It secures Prince of Peace’s first state tournament berth since 1994, when it got to Des Moines as Mater Dei High School. It also got there a half dozen times in earlier eras as St. Mary’s, but this is the first time it will step onto the court at Wells Fargo Arena as Prince of Peace.
“To do it for coach and for the first time in 25 years to get back there, that’s the best feeling,’’ said senior guard Patrick Mulholland, who led Prince of Peace with 19 points. “I’m so proud of this team. They worked so hard. This isn’t just for us individually, though. This is for Clinton … This is the best feeling of my life.’’
Teammate Kaidion Larson, who added 16 points, echoed those thoughts.
“It means everything to me,’’ he said. “At the end, when that buzzer went off, it was the happiest moment of my life. We’ve worked every day for about four years to get to this moment.’’
The Irish (20-3) led by 12 at halftime and widened the lead to 14 (44-30) in the third quarter before Dunkerton staged a huge comeback behind Tylin Williams and Brady Happel.
When Williams hit a 3-pointer with 6 minutes, 8 seconds remaining, the lead was reduced to a single point at 54-53.
Prince of Peace had several chances to add to its lead after that but Mulholland and Payton Schnier both missed the front end of 1-and-1 free throw opportunities and Larson had an apparent 3-pointer wiped out by a delayed traveling call.
Nathan Moeller, who led the Irish with 11 rebounds, finally scored and the Irish pushed the margin back to six. However, Dunkerton kept coming and closed to within 62-60 on a free throw by Brady Stone with 1:05 remaining.
Moeller and Larson both missed close-in shots at the other end and Irish center Michael Matthew was fouled with 37 seconds to go, making the second of two free throws.
Stone missed a 3, Dunkerton got the ball back on a turnover, the Raiders gave it right back with a 5-seconds violation and Matthew missed two free throws with 8.7 seconds left, leaving Dunkerton with one more chance.
Zach Johnson, who came into the game with one fewer 3-pointer than the entire Prince of Peace team, got off two 3-point attempts in the final seconds but both missed and the celebration began.
“We made just enough free throws to withstand the run,’’ Murphy said.
“It was a fun final minute,’’ Mulholland added. “My heart was racing. It was crazy. They’re such a good 3-point shooting team.’’
The Raiders (20-5) finished with eight 3-point field goals but they launched 35 shots from behind the arc. Williams led with 20 points with Happel adding 19 and Johnson 15.
Prince of Peace shot 50 percent from the field in the game and got at least eight points from all five starters.
When it was over, Murphy was congratulated by several of his former players and he told each of them “We’re going for you guys, we’re going for you guys.''
“It’s a dream come true for a lot of players and our school,’’ he said. “We’ve been on the doorstep a few times and just couldn’t get it done.’’