OAKLAND, Iowa — Things looked grim for East Mills heading into the Class 1-A district final with Council Bluffs St. Albert.
The Wolverines were without starters Riley Story and Anthony Rainey, who combined for 21 points per game this season.
And while East Mills succumbed to the Falcons 52-39, the Wolverines gave St. Albert all it could handle outside of a first quarter that the Falcons dominated 17-7.
Ryan Hughes led St. Albert with 13 points and Jared Gast added 12 to put the Falcons one win away from the state tournament.
Pedro Ragazzo scored 13 points to pace East Mills and Michael Schafer added 11.
St. Albert coach Larry Peterson said he would have liked his team, which shot 35.1 percent (19 of 54), to have had a cleaner game considering the Wolverines dressed seven players.
“They say you’ve got to win an ugly game here or there to get to where we want to go,” Peterson said. “It was as much due to their game plan.
“Hats off to those guys. They played their hearts out. They executed everything they wanted to and really gave us fits. We were quite lucky, actually, to gut this thing out. Happy to move on.”
East Mills coach Kevin Schafer said he was extremely proud of his team’s effort.
“I think one sub went in for maybe five seconds. We gritted it out,” Schafer said. “Especially, I mean, they’re running players in and out on us. They played pressure defense a lot, full-court defense. It wasn’t easy.”
With East Mills’ lack of depth, Gast said he expected the Wolverines to wear down as the game went on, but they really didn’t.
“Props to them, you know, playing with seven guys,” Gast said. “That’s really tough. They didn’t get tired. We thought they might.”
Peterson said his plan was to continue to press the Wolverines to build a cushion, but East Mills wouldn’t go away. It was within 32-26 with 1:30 left in the third quarter.
“They were very well-coached, and they were ready for us. Absolutely,” Peterson said. “That’s why we kept pressing, but they had an answer for it.”
The hot start by the Falcons was the difference.
They hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter, including a pair by Hughes to help give St. Albert a double-digit lead going to the second. Peterson said he preaches getting out of the gate fast.
It paid off Thursday.
“Helps a lot,” Peterson said. “(Hughes) came through big for us there. And then that second group, like I’ve said all along, they bring a really nice level of energy. There’s no dropoff on the defensive side.”
The Falcons, who improved to 11-13, are scheduled to face Ankeny Christian (23-0) — owners of a 62-57 home win this season over St. Albert — Saturday in Adel, weather permitting.
The Wolverines’ season ended at 20-4.
East Mills (20-4)………………7 10 11 11—39
CB St. Albert (11-13)………..17 8 13 14—52
EM: Michael Schafer 11, Nicholas Duysen 9, Trevor Glockel 6, Pedro Ragazzo 13.
CBSA: Sam Rallis 5, Cy Patterson 6, Ryan Hughes 13, Lance Wright 6, Aiden Antisdel 3, Jared Gast 12, Reed Miller 7.