DURANT — A bit of early confidence carried the Wilton boys basketball team to the next round of the postseason Thursday night.
The Beavers built a big first-quarter lead and were able to hold off late comeback attempts from Louisa-Muscatine to win 67-57 at Durant High School.
Wilton (16-8) advances to a district final on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. in Muscatine against Iowa City Regina.
Wilton's Javin Drake scored 29 points, which included 11 in the first quarter as the Beavers drained seven 3-point shots to burst out to a 25-7 lead after eight minutes.
"We had a lot of energy from the start, and a lot of confidence," Drake said. "As soon as one [3-pointer] went down, they all came down. We had more confidence in our shots."
The Beavers eventually needed every point, though, as the Falcons (12-11) remained a threat well into the fourth quarter, even if the closest L-M got down the stretch was within seven points with a minute left to play.
"They didn't give up," L-M coach Grant Fricke said. "They were fighting tooth and nail to the end. It was an emotional ending but I couldn't have asked for a better way for our seniors to go out. I was blessed."
Brad Wachtel scored 24 points to lead L-M, with Daulton Leach and Lowden Gabriel scoring nine points each.
"They're a really senior-heavy team and they didn't stop," Drake said. "We kinda got a little nervous with it in the second half and didn't play our best. ... We knew we had to come back and keep playing hard."
Despite L-M's best efforts, though, the Falcons couldn't catch a Wilton team that hit 14 of 25 shots from the floor in the first half, nine of them from 3-point range. Wilton finished 11 of 22 from beyond the arc, with Drake hitting five treys, and Jake Lenker and Zach Randolph adding three and two triples, respectively.
Wilton also connected on 12 of its 16 free throws in the fourth quarter to put any further potential Falcons' comeback on ice.
"We knew they'd play zone against us," Wilton coach Mark Patterson said. "We knew where our shots were going to come from, and we were able to find those shots in rhythm and hit them. And looking back, thank goodness we did. ... Our top guys were smart enough to know what to do with the ball down the stretch and hung on for a win."
The Beavers will go for its first win in the season series with the Regals after dropping the first two 58-57 and 58-47.
"We've got to play hard all four quarters," Drake said, "we can't afford any slip-ups like we had in the second half."
L-M sends a talented senior class on its way as the season concludes, including Wachtel, Leach, Aaron Bohling, Kyler Bemis and Tevin Hernandez.
"I'll forever remember this first group of seniors," Fricke, a first-year coach with the Falcons, said. "They're what you need in a basketball team. ... It shows on the basketball court how much they've worked together all the way through elementary school. This is hard on them as their third different head coach in four years and I just wish I could have been there for them earlier."
IOWA CITY REGINA 47, DURANT 44: A late run spurred on by a four-point play off a Durant intentional foul gave the Regals the wiggle room necessary to win a battle with the Wildcats in a district semifinal at Durant High School.
Nathan Stenger scored 24 points to lead the Regals, and played a pivotal role in a game-changing sequence.
With 1 minute, 20 seconds left in the game and Durant leading 44-41, Stenger drove to the basket and went up for a shot as Will Bentley leapt up for the block. The shot was wide, but as Bentley came back down he appeared to make contact with Stenger on the way down, sending Stenger to the floor.
After deliberation between officials, the initial call of a standard foul was changed to an intentional foul, as Stenger hit both free throws to pull Regina within one.
Durant coach Matt Straube admitted that it may have been an intentional foul, but he firmly disagreed with the decision being made in the context of what he felt was a physical game.
Stenger would receive the ensuing inbounds pass and converted a bucket, an incredible swing of momentum as Regina took a 45-44 lead.
"I thought there might have been fouls on drives they didn't call, and if they're not going to call them, that's just the way it goes," Straube said. "[Regina] just made the winning plays when they needed to."
Durant got two more possessions but came up empty on one and turned the ball over on the other, and the Wildcats' final possession after Regina pushed the lead to three points didn't end in a good look for any of Durant's shooters.
"We wanted to spread the court and do what we did all night," Straube said. "We did a little too much dribbling and not enough ball movement."
Luke Whitlock led the Wildcats with 12 points and Will Bentley scored 10 points. Bentley, Gavin Meyer, Joey Tobin, Jake Benischek, Adam Wiese and Chris Saley all played their final game for the Wildcats on Thursday.
"They meant so much to this team," Straube said. "They all do certain things so well and we're going to miss them tremendously."