DES MOINES — The amount of time the Bulldogs spent competing on the floor this season was endless.
Unfortunately for Chris Gravett’s squad, a basketball season is never endless. There is always a conclusion.
For the 2011-12 Bulldog boys, that conclusion came on Monday night at Lincoln’s Bowen Roundhouse Arena. In a game of big momentum swings, the final one went the way of the Railsplitters, who matched their own 10-2 run to open the game by closing it the same way to take a 52-48 victory over their CIML Metro Conference rivals in the Class 4A, Substate 7 quarterfinals.
“I can’t fault the effort of our guys. They fought hard all night,” Gravett said. “Unfortunately, we just had to keep fighting back all night. They just made a few more shots than we did. It’s sad to lose, but we fought hard all the way.”
“They got two big runs that really hurt us,” senior Ben Kramer added. “If we stop either of those runs by making an extra shot or two on our end, it’s a different story. They’re a tough team to play, but we played them tough.”
Kramer was making his first and only appearance as a senior in Lincoln’s Roundhouse, hoping to change the outcome of the Bulldogs’ regular season visit that ended with the Railsplitters dominating from start to finish in a 59-30 victory. Kramer did his part, scoring a game-high 16 points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer that gave Ottumwa a 41-40 lead with under five minutes remaining.
That would be just the second lead the Bulldogs would have all night. Kramer played a part in giving Ottumwa its first lead, taking an opening tip-off win by Faith Pope and dishing ahead for a breakaway layup by Erik Thorgaard in the opening seconds.
Lincoln’s zone defense, however, set a familiar tone by helping stymie the Bulldog offense and sparking a 10-0 first-quarter run. The Bulldogs fell behind by as many as 11 points in the opening quarter and were forced into 13 first-half turnovers.
“We knew they had a couple of shooters, so we had to keep our eyes on them and stay low on them,” senior Saddik Meja said. Meja had two blocks and got two of Lincoln’s 15 steals.
Unlike their regular season contest at the Roundhouse, Ottumwa didn’t let early struggles continue throughout the game. Pope began to make his presence known, as the 6-foot-6 junior began a 13-point, 13-rebound night with nine first-half points, leading an 11-1 run that got the Bulldogs back within 23-20 by the half.
“Even though we jumped out in front on them, I had a feeling they’d make a run at us,” Lincoln head coach Joe Katich said. “It really did turn into a game of streaks. Fortunately, we were able to have the last one.”
Lincoln swung back the momentum in their favor behind senior shooting guard Ben Roney, who led the Rails with 15 points and buried consecutive 3-pointers in a 16-5 run to open the second half. Facing their biggest deficit of the night, Ottumwa found its own long-range answer with a trio of treys to close the quarter with 10 straight points before consecutive 3-pointers by Kramer allowed Ottumwa to regain a one-point edge.
“It’s just a case of us hitting our shots,” Kramer said after leading all scorers with 16 points in the contest. “Once we hit our shots, we started to figure out how to beat their zone.”
Once again, Ottumwa’s time in front was short-lived. Needing one stop to get the ball and the lead for the first time all night, the Bulldogs instead saw Trevon Young slice in for a go-ahead layup on the Railsplitters’ next possession.
“If we got a stop and got the ball back after we took the lead back, I was going to have us work the clock down,” Gravett said. “We had several chances to put ourselves in that position. You always think of how close those opportunities were for us to take control of the game.”
The Bulldogs’ last shot at the lead came as Nic Allen’s go-ahead 3-pointer rimmed in and out. Lincoln then scored on consecutive plays that broke down into 3-1 fast breaks after trying to run the clock out, both leading to Rodney Walker finding Meja for two easy lay-ups that put Lincoln up by five with under two minutes left.
“Rodney and I have been playing together for so long. We’re confident in each other in those situations,” Meja said after scoring 11 points and pulling in nine boards. “We know exactly what to do when we get those situations and how to finish.”
The Bulldogs got as close as three one last time in the final minute on a Pope basket, but Young finished his own 12-point night with a reverse lay-in that helped put the dagger in Ottumwa’s season. Lincoln (11-11) advances to a Friday night substate semifinal showdown at fifth-ranked West Des Moines Valley.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, finish their season with four straight losses and a 9-13 record. Equally as painful is the end of the prep basketball careers for seven Bulldog seniors, including starters like Kramer and Thorgaard who helped lead the program in their own, unique ways.
“Ben’s a more intense kind of player. Erik’s kind of more laid-back. All our seniors bring a lot to our program,” Gravett said. “I think what sums up what these seniors meant to us is that, as a group, they have a cumulative 3.97 GPA. I told them in the locker room that the young men they will become are men that I know will make the school and the entire city of Ottumwa proud.
“These seniors are going to leave a legacy of doing things the right way on and off the court. That’s what we want this program to be about.”
DES MOINES LINCOLN 52, OTTUMWA 48
Ottumwa – 5 15 15 13 - 48
Lincoln – 14 9 16 13 - 52
Ottumwa (48) – Ben Kramer 16, Faith Pope 13, Nick Allen 8, Erik Thorgaard 8, Austin Walker 3. Team 17-47 7-10 48.
3-pointers – 7-22 (Kramer 3-5, Allen 2-7, Thorgaard 2-7, Carter Burns 0-1, Walker 0-2). Rebounds – 34 (Pope 13, Walker 8, Kramer 6, Thorgaard 4, Allen 3, Burns). Assists – 13 (Kramer 4, Thorgaard 4, Allen 3, Adam Van Fleet, Walker). Steals – 4 (Kramer 2, Allen, Pope). Blocks – 6 (Pope 5, Burns). Turnovers – 18. Total Fouls – 15.
Lincoln (52) – Ben Roney 15, Trevon Young 12, Saddik Meja 11, Rodney Walker 8, Nate Brown 4, Blake Acri 2. Team 22-49 6-16 52.
3-pointers – 2-10 (Roney 2-4, Acri 0-1, Sabonis Smith 0-1, Connor Quijano 0-2, Walker 0-2). Rebounds – 28 (Meja 9, Walker 9, Young 4, Roney 3, Quijano 2, Acri). Assists – 18 (Walker 8, Quijano 4, Young 4, Acri, Meja). Steals – 15 (Walker 5, Roney 3, Acri 2, Meja 2, Young 2, Smith). Blocks – 3 (Meja 2, Young). Turnovers – 8. Total Fouls – 12.