NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa — Minutes after the North Scott boys basketball team earned its second straight berth in the Iowa Class 4A state tournament, senior Reece Sommers reminded teammates that the Lancers haven’t reached their desired destination.
“We’ve got three more, three more games to play,’’ Sommers said. “Just getting to Des Moines, that’s not the goal.’’
North Scott took a step in that direction Tuesday, rolling to a 55-40 victory over Cedar Rapids Prairie in a 4A substate final played at Liberty High School.
The Lancers rode the strength of their defense, a balanced approach and their experience to victory against an opponent looking for its first date at state in 21 years.
“I felt like our experience made a big difference,’’ North Scott coach Shamus Budde said. “Our guys, they’ve been here before and they played that way. They were ready from the start.’’
All five starters collected points in the opening quarter, sending the Lancers on their way to a 16-9 lead after one quarter in a game that began with an 11-2 run.
It didn’t hurt that North Scott was facing a somewhat familiar foe, opening what has grown into a 22-1 season with a 57-52 win on the Hawks’ home court.
“They’ve got a lot of size and that first game, it gave us an idea of how they use it,’’ said senior Tavi Seales, who led North Scott with 22 points. “We talked before the game about coming out with energy, wanting to throw the first punch, be aggressive, get to the 50-50 balls, that type of thing and we were able to get that done.’’
The second of Sommers’ three 3-point baskets and a basket by Seales allowed North Scott to open a 24-12 lead three minutes into the second quarter, but Prairie answered.
As players and coaches from the Lancers’ girls basketball team arrived to an ovation following their own state tourney win earlier in the day, the Hawks scored the final nine points of the opening half.
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Prairie pulled within 24-21 at the break on a basket by Kris Murray with 1 minute, 36 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
“They knocked down shots and that’s to be expected,’’ North Scott forward Ty Anderson said. “They got to this point for a reason, too, and we just had to get back to doing what helped us early. We picked up the energy and picked up the defense.’’
Two free throws by Keegan Murray, who led Prairie with 17 points, cut the Lancers’ lead to 24-23 nine seconds into the third quarter but North Scott had an answer of its own.
“They made a good adjustment at the end of the second quarter that took us some time to figure out,’’ Budde said. “Our guys continued to defend, continued to do what we wanted. They stuck to the plan. They’ve got a high basketball IQ and that showed. That experience, it gets you through the tough stretches.’’
Seales and Carson Rollinger scored on drives to the basket on the Lancers’ next two possessions, the start of a 10-2 run which helped North Scott carry a 38-28 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Lancers limited the Hawks (17-4) to a 1-of-17 start from 3-point range and before Keegan Murray connected on a pair late, pulling Prairie within 49-40 with :53 to play.
Anderson and Rollinger then finished off nine- and eight-point performances, respectively, by combining to hit six free throws in the final seconds to seal the victory.
North Scott limited Prairie to 15-of-44 shooting and used a grit-filled approach to overcome a lack of size and out-rebound an opponent which started four players 6-foot-5 or taller by a 28-19 count.
“We came out and played the way we needed to play to get the win. We knew we were going to have to defend, scrap for every loose ball there was,’’ said Sommers, who finished with 12 points. “It’s a great feeling, something we’ve been working hard all season to experience again but we’re not done yet.’’