DES MOINES — Some dreams are fulfilled on basketball courts in March. Others are still being created.
Members of the Don Bosco boys’ basketball team raced onto Wells Fargo Arena’s hardwood Monday morning in their basic blue uniforms, savoring the experience of reaching a lifelong goal.
Air-tight friendships have been formed through the work of putting a school that has won football and wrestling state championships this athletics season on the state tournament map in basketball for the first time in 30 years.
Together, Don Bosco held off a tall and determined George-Little Rock squad, 60-57, in Class 1A’s quarterfinal round.
The win marks Don Bosco’s first state basketball victory in program history. More importantly, it guarantees two more games inside Wells Fargo Arena.
A Don Bosco team (23-3) that hasn’t lost with its full lineup intact will face undefeated and top seed North Linn, an 80-34 quarterfinal winner over Edgewood-Colesburg, at 2 p.m. Wednesday. An opportunity to play for a championship or third place will follow.
“Once we got here, we adjusted our goals,” Don Bosco coach Nate Kellogg said. “We talked in the locker room about, ‘Let’s make it to a game where we know it’s going to be our last game.’
“It’s such a fun group to be around that we don’t want it to end. Winning this one, we’re going to know that last date.”
Talking to his uncles — Jason and John Huff, who played on the Dons’ previous state-qualifying teams in 1987 and ‘88 — junior point guard Jack Kelley quickly realized the significance of this opening-round game.
“They were just preaching how it felt great when they made it to state, but it sucked only playing one game,” Kelley said. “We knew we wanted to get one (win), so then we’re guaranteed two more. We want to make this run as long as we can.
“It means a lot. You’ve got to credit the seniors. They came in with a 3-19 team (as freshmen) and they worked hard every single year. Now we’re playing for 1 through 4 at the state tournament.”
Kelley — generously listed at 5-foot-11 — often stirred the drink for Don Bosco’s potent but undersized offense. He fearlessly found paths to the basket, finishing with a game-high 17 points and opening up the court for his team’s shooters.
“Jack’s special,” senior teammate Zach Nie said. “He creates for his teammates and it’s fun playing with him. He makes the game easier.”
In total, Don Bosco shot 20 of 42 (47.6 percent) from the field and 17 of 21 (81 percent) from the free throw line with seven players contributing points.
Zach Huff scored 10 with six assists and Sean McFadden, a 6-4 forward, added 10 of his own. Cael Tenold and Nie each chipped in eight points.
Nie’s final basket was clutch.
A George-Little Rock team that had trailed from the midway point of the first quarter tied the game at 48 in the fourth quarter on Caleb Terhark’s free throws after a charge call was reversed into a blocking foul.
On the ensuing possession, Nie found space and hit a long two-pointer with 3:31 remaining to give the Dons an advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.
“With the game tied and everything, I was just looking for the best shot,” Nie said. “I was in my rhythm and took the shot.”
While Don Bosco’s Kelley, Tenold and Huff combined to hit 8 of 10 free throws down the stretch, a 3-pointer and traditional three-point play gave George-Little Rock the game’s final shot with a chance to tie.
Josh Haken, who tallied 12 points, got a clean look off a screen at the top of the key, but came up empty.
“In the first half their quickness really bothered us,” G-LR co-head coach Brian Luenberger said. “They got to the lane more than we envisioned. We figured our length would bother them at some point. It showed up there in that second half a little bit.
“If we could have just got that lead in the second half it would have been a little different, but credit Don Bosco. It was a heck of a battle.”
Indeed, this Don Bosco win took heart.
“Gutted it out,” Kellogg said. “They were a bigger team, probably a little bit more active team than we were, and we really had to scrap and claw. ... I’m pretty proud of those guys for doing that.”
Don Bosco 60, George-LR 57
DON BOSCO (23-3) — Jack Kelley 5-11 7-9 17, Zach Huff 3-5 4-6 10, Zach Nie 3-8 0-0 8, Cael Tenold 3-3 2-2 8, Sean McFadden 3-10 3-3 10, Lewis Havel 0-0 0-0 0, Kendall Becker 1-1 0-0 2, Clayton Weber 2-4 1-1 5. Totals 20-42 17-21 60.
GEORGE-LITTLE ROCK (19-7) — Jayden Mauldin 3-6 1-2 8, Lucas Nagel 4-14 0-0 8, Josh Haken 3-9 5-7 12, Caleb Terhark 5-10 2-2 13, Landon Jumbeck 3-9 1-2 10, Blake Johnson 2-4 0-0 4, Payton Mauldin 1-2 0-0 2, Matt Haken 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-56 9-13 57.
Don Bosco 18 18 7 17 — 60
George-L.R. 12 13 14 18 — 57
3-point goals — DB 3-6 (Kelley 0-1, Nie 2-4, Tenold 1-1), G-LR 6-21 (J. Mauldin 1-3, Nagel 0-1, J. Haken 1-4, Terhard 1-3, Jumbeck 3-7, Johnson 0-2, P. Mauldin 0-1). Rebounds — DB 32 (Nie 8), G-LR 30 (Nagel 9). Assists — DB 12 (Huff 6), G-LR 10 (Nagel 3). Turnovers — DB 9 (Huff 3), G-LR 4 (Terhark 2). Blocks — DB 2 (McFadden, Weber), G-LR 5 (Terhark, Jumbeck 2). Steals — DB 1 (Huff), G-LR 4 (Johnson 3). Total fouls — DB 13, G-LR 19. Fouled out — Jumbeck (G-LR).