Beckman is headed to Des Moines for its first appearance in the Class 2A Boys State Basketball Tournament since 2007, after a grind-it-out 56-52 overtime win over West Branch, at Maquoketa, Feb. 27.
“The last time we made it, coach (Ryan) Mabe and I were playing for coach (Dan) Correy, but that’s 14 years ago now,” said a jubilant Beckman coach Michael Molony.
“We’ve been here so many times and came up just short. Last year we had a great team, the year before we had a great team, and I’m just so happy for these kids,” Molony said. “They’ve battled through so much adversity all year after losing Mason (White) in January and going through the grind in a 3A conference.”
This one, as expected, was close all the way, with the score tied six times in a first half that saw the Blazers take a 22-21 lead to the break.
Beckman standout sophomore Padraig Gallagher was tagged with his second foul at the 5:43 mark of the opening period, but 6-foot-5 senior Jack Gehling picked up the offensive slack, scoring nine first-quarter points, including a three-pointer, to give the Blazers a 12-9 lead six minutes in.
If the Blazers needed an energy boost on the floor, senior captain White provided it when he entered the game with one minute remaining in the first period after missing the second half of the season with an ACL injury.
“After Senior Night, Mason came to me and said, ’I want to suit up again. I’ll do what it takes’,” Molony said. “For him to come back like he did — you could see the whole crowd exploding when he came on. Obviously, he’s extremely limited with the ACL, but I have to give him a ton of credit. Our senior leader and captain was willing to risk injury for this moment, and I’m so happy for him.”
“When we saw all he did to come back to play for us — it might not have been a lot — there was no way we could lose with him out there,” added Gallagher.
Logan Burchard knocked down a three-ball after White joined the lineup to put the Blazers up 15-11, but West Branch freshman standout Holden Arnamen answered that with a triple of his own to end the period 15-14.
After West Branch took a 20-19 lead at the 5:20 mark of the second quarter, neither team found the bottom of the net for nearly five minutes before Burchard hit another three to regain the lead with 30 seconds left in the half.
“I have to give West Branch a lot of credit. They played a great game and kept battling. Obviously, with Paddy out the whole first half we were happy to be where we were at halftime,” said Molony. “Our games are like this. We just gut them out. We find ways to do it and we get scores when we need to. Nothing has fazed us the last three weeks. That’s what it takes to play into March, and we haven’t done that in a long time.”
The Bears scored the first five points of the third quarter with 6-foot-5 post Jeff Bowie scoring two of his 19 on the night to give his team a 26-22 lead.
An alley-oop score by Gallagher got the Blazers back on track, and a pair of mid-range jumpers by Logan Goedken had Beckman within a point at 31-30 after West Branch had taken its biggest lead of the game at 31-26. A 15-foot jump shot from West Branch senior Simon Palmer had the Bears up 33-30 after three quarters.
Bowie scored a traditional three-point play at the 5:53 mark of the final period to put the Bears back on top by four, 38-34, but Gallagher was finding his rhythm and answered with a three-pointer of his own and it was 38-37.
“Paddy did a great job attacking and he was determined to score,” said Molony. “I knew he had the talent. He took off at the end of the year and we really needed him to.”
A pair of Gehling free throws regained the lead at 41-40 with three minutes to go, and Gallagher hit a pair from the line to put Beckman up 43-40 at the 1:36 mark. Bowie scored inside to make it a one-point game, and after Gallagher hit one-of-two with a minute remaining, West Branch tied things at 44-44 on a tough move inside by Gavin Heiserman.
Both teams had an opportunity to win in regulation. A Blazer turnover gave West Branch the ball in its backcourt with 4.5 seconds remaining, but a late off-balance shot was no good and it was off to overtime.
It was clear Beckman wanted the ball in Gallaher’s hands during the extra period, and the lanky wingman responded by hitting eight in a row from the line in overtime, with the last two putting the Blazers up 54-50 with 15.6 seconds on the clock. When Gallagher stole the ensuing West Branch inbounds play, it was all over but the celebration.
“I trust in myself and I trust in my teammates,” said Gallaher. “We’re used to this. We’ve probably played more close games than anybody in the state this year.”
Goedken sealed the deal with a pair of free throws with seven seconds remaining, capping a 20-of-23 Beckman performance from the line, making it 56-50 before a meaningless West Branch score made the final 56-52.
“Going into the game, win or lose, we knew we loved each other and we always came together and fought through it. This was ours,” Goedken said. “Mr. (Dan) Correy’s our defensive guy, and we didn’t play great defense the first half, but the second half we came together and won.”
“This is the most poised group we’ve had and the most determined group we’ve had,” said Molony. “When we play in the WaMaC it’s a grind. We can control the tempo because we obviously have great guard play.”
Now it’s on to the Class 2A State Tournament, where the Blazers (16-7) are the six-seed and face No. 3 Des Moines Christian (21-2) at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 9.
“We’re one of the best eight teams in the state and they’re going to remember that for the rest of their lives. There’s no greater feeling than taking the Blazers back to the state tournament,” Molony said. “This is the third time in four years we’ve been in this game. We got over the hump and I’m just so happy for our kids.
“We’re just happy to be moving on. In a sub-state, it doesn’t matter whether it’s won by two or a hundred. The Blazers are going back to Des Moines.”
Beckman’s leaders were: scoring — Gallagher 20, Gehling 15, Goedken eight, Jake Hermsen seven, Logan Burchard six; three-point goals — Logan Burchard two, Gallagher and Gehling one; rebounds — Hermsen five, Gallagher and Gehling four, Logan Burchard three, Goedken two, Ryan Burchard and Cayden Gassmann one; assists — Goedken six, Gallagher, Gehling, White and Ryan Burchard one; steals — Goedken, Logan Burchard and Gallagher two, Gehling and Gassmann one; blocked shots — Hermsen three; team shooting — 16-of-32 (50%); free throws — 20-of-23 (87%).