After losing three games in a row by a total of five points — with a 53-50 home loss to Lisbon, Dec. 17, dropping its season record to 2-4 — the Maquoketa Valley boys’ basketball team decided on a restart to the season.
The Wildcats have won 5-of-7 since, with the latest a 63-53 win over Edgewood-Colesburg, Jan. 21, ending a seven-game losing streak to the Vikings that dated back to Jan. 15, 2015.
“After the Lisbon game, we sat down and had about a 25-minute conversation. Coach (Dan) Cassutt and I didn’t have to say a word,” said Maquoketa Valley coach Eric Conner. “They put MV basketball up on the board and wrote 0-0. They decided to get off to a fresh start. Right now it says 5-2 on the board.”
“We look at that as our turning point in the year,” he added. “We keep telling our guys it doesn’t matter who we play. We have five keys for each game and if we do those five key things — handle pressure, control the tempo, execute on offense, control the glass and believe and compete — we give ourselves a chance.”
Ed-Co coach Justin Olind was quick to credit the Wildcats.
“They play fundamental basketball,” he said. “They knew we wanted to turn it up and were applying token pressure just to slow us up as much as they could. We weren’t getting what we needed to get to take advantage and that’s just good coaching on their part.”
“They executed their game plan early on better than we did and that was a big difference in the game,” Olind said.
The Wildcats got off to a quick start, as speedy freshman point guard Avery Holtz opened the scoring with a three-pointer, and after Ed-Co’s 6-4 post Riley Ashline scored inside, Mason Lubben hit MV’s second three to make it 6-2.
Andrew Holtz scored on a follow to make it 8-2, but an 11-2 Ed-Co run ended the first quarter with the Vikings up 13-10. Spencer Staner sparked the Ed-Co spree, hitting a three-pointer and scoring a traditional three-point play before Quintin Hess knocked home a three from the left corner.
Keegan Hansel’s score inside gave Ed-Co its biggest lead of the game at 16-12 early in the second period, but a three-pointer from Owen Mensen narrowed the gap to one. A pair of Andrew Holtz scores regained the lead for the Wildcats at 19-18. The teams traded the lead the rest of the half, with Maquoketa Valley running the final 45 seconds off the clock before Andrew Holtz scored on a set play to give MV a 23-22 lead going to the break.
Ed-Co took a brief one-point lead to start the third, but Mensen was dialed in for the Wildcats — hitting a pair of three-pointers for a 29-24 lead with 5:30 remaining in the quarter.
Korey Putz got a steal and layup to make it 29-28, but Andrew Holtz went coast-to-coast for a score and followed that with two free throws to give MV a 33-28 lead. Hess scored inside to narrow the gap to three, but another Avery Holtz triple put the Wildcats up 36-30, and the period ended with MV leading by six, 38-32.
Andrew Holtz put MV up seven, 40-33, to open the final period. That’s when AJ Ambundo got the hot hand — hitting three-pointers on three possessions in a row — as the Wildcats jumped to a 49-36 lead with five minutes remaining.
“We had guys really step up tonight and hit some big shots,” Conner said. “Owen hit a couple of threes and AJ hit three in a row. I’m not very good at math, but however many points that is, it kind of sprung us in the second half.”
The Vikings weren’t quite done though, as Jack Wiskus hit a long three of his own to narrow the gap to 10. The teams traded baskets the next three minutes, and it was 53-45 when Ed-Co forced a Wildcat turnover with 2:30 remaining.
When the Vikings failed to convert on the next possession, the game turned into a free throw shooting contest for the Wildcats when Ed-Co was forced to foul. After Avery Holtz and Ambundo couldn’t connect on one-and-one opportunities, Mensen finally hit a pair to put MV up 55-45 with 1:20 remaining.
Wiskus then hit another long three to narrow the gap to 55-48, and when MV turned it over on the following possession, Konnor Putz made things interesting with another Ed-Co three-pointer to make it 55-51 with 42 seconds remaining.
Maquoketa Valley then hit eight in a row from the line the rest of the way, preventing the Vikings from scoring to seal the deal.
“We’re young. We continue to say we’re young, but we keep asking the guys how long we’re going to use that as an excuse,” said Conner. “We’re learning and they’re figuring out how to win close games.”
The Wildcats shot 53% from the field and converted 12-of-14 free throws, while Ed-Co hit 41% from the field and was 5-of-7 from the free throw line. The Vikings snared 25 rebounds and MV 19, while MV turned the ball over seven times and Ed-Co 11.
“Kudos to my guys for battling to the end,” said Olind. “We were just a step off tonight. We need to do a better job of identifying their personnel and getting what we need to get offensively.”
MV’s leaders were: scoring — Andrew Holtz 16, Avery Holtz 14, Ambundo and Mensen 13, Miguel Bojorquez four, Lubben three; rebounds — Ambundo six, Andrew Holtz and Bojorquez four, Avery Holtz and Mitch Heims two, Lubben one; assists — Avery Holtz seven, Andrew Holtz two, Mensen, Ambundo and Bojorquez one; steals — Ambundo two, Avery Holtz, Andrew Holtz and Bojoquez one; blocks — Andrew Holtz one.
Leading Ed-Co were: scoring — Riley Ashline 14, Staner 10, Hansel and Hess seven, Wiskus six, Konnor Putz five, Korey Putz four; rebounds — Riley Ashline and Hansel six, Hess three, Konnor Putz two, Korey Putz, Staner and Zander Carter one; assists — Staner eight, Konnor Putz two, Korey Putz and Riley Ashline one; steals — Korey Putz and Riley Ashline two, Wiskus one; blocks — Riley Ashline two, Staner one.