DES MOINES — One look at the roster illustrated the tall test Waverly-Shell Rock encountered during Thursday’s Class 3A boys’ state basketball semifinal.
The trio of Xavier Foster, Cole Henry and Jarad Kruse have formed quite the skyline in Oskaloosa. They did everything from scoring to rebounding and altering shots — everything except making free throws.
Oskaloosa’s 9 of 25 clip from the free throw line gave Waverly-Shell Rock hope, but the Go-Hawks finished just shy of reaching their first final since 2013’s championship season with a 48-45 setback inside Wells Fargo Arena.
“We knew we were going to have to battle,” W-SR coach Nate Steege said. “We knew every rebound was going to be a battle. We knew everything around the rim was going to be a challenge.”
Foster, a sophomore 6-foot-11 blue chip prospect who has already generated interest from some of the nation’s elite programs, scored 11 points with eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Henry, standing 6-9, added 11 points and Kruse, a skilled 6-5 senior, led the way with 16 points.
“They’re (great) players, incredible length,” said Waverly-Shell Rock’s 6-1 junior Luke Velky, who was assigned to Foster and Henry at times. “It was actually kind of fun playing against them.
“(Foster) is probably going to go somewhere really good. He could even go to the NBA. That’s something really crazy that I can say I played against him, we played against him. We put up the biggest fight we could and fell three points short.”
Velky’s 13 points led W-SR’s offense, and forward Jacob Bahe gave the Go-Hawks a spark off the bench with eight points and six rebounds.
Oskaloosa started strong as Foster sparked an 8-0 go-ahead run with a dunk in the first quarter. He put the Indians up 10 by showcasing his smooth 3-point shot to open the second.
After trailing 25-17 at halftime, W-SR’s full-court pressure and speed began to negate Oskaloosa’s size.
Mosai Newsom’s free throws capped a 9-2 run that cut the Go-Hawks’ deficit to one as Foster sat on the bench with three fouls. Velky later skied for a rebound and found Jordan Downing for a layup at the end of a 6-0 run to give W-SR a 34-31 advantage with 2:02 left in the third quarter.
“We had to create some tempo because it was going to be a lot easier to score in transition than it was in the half-court,” Steege said. “We created some turnovers, we got some run-outs that we were looking for, and we just kept battling.”
A 3-for-14 clip from 3-point range ultimately prevented W-SR’s offense from maintaining that late third-quarter lead. Oskaloosa went back in front when Henry put back a miss after Spencer Tucker’s tying 3-pointer entering the fourth stanza.
The Indians’ lead climbed to eight with 1:08 remaining, but Velky answered with a quick basket. Jack Seward, who missed his first six 3-point attempts, hit two treys in 11 seconds to cut the deficit to one with 10 seconds left.
“A lot of guys wouldn’t shoot those shots after they miss six in a row, and that’s just a testament to Jack and his toughness and will to win,” Steege said. “It happens. Guys have off nights.
“We went 3-for-14 from the 3-point line, and when you’re playing a team that’s as big as they are, you’re going to have to make some of those shots to be successful.”
Oskaloosa’s free throw woes finally ended to hold off the late W-SR charge. Tanner DeKock converted a pair with 4.2 seconds remaining that pushed the Indians’ lead to three.
On Waverly-Shell Rock’s final possession, Braden Holmquist drove the court before passing back to a teammate as the time expired without a potential tying shot released.
“I actually wanted him to shoot that,” Steege said. “The kick-back, I didn’t think there was probably enough time for, but I think he was probably about to travel, so he kicked it back. We gave ourselves a chance to get a look, we just didn’t execute.”
W-SR returns to action at 10:30 a.m. Friday against Cedar Rapids Xavier in the consolation game. The Saints defeated the Go-Hawks by six points in last year’s state semifinal.
It will cap an impressive postseason run few outside the program saw coming.
“No one thought we would be here and we knew we could,” Newsom said. “We knew we were capable of it, so we worked and worked and accomplished it. We trusted our coaches, trusted ourselves and we got here.”
Oskaloosa 48, W-SR 45
WAVERLY-SHELL ROCK (19-7) — Jack Seward 3-13 1-2 9, Braden Holmquist 2-3 0-0 4, Jordan Downing 2-3 1-1 5, Luke Velky 6-9 0-0 13, Mosai Newsom 2-8 2-2 6, Trey Angel 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Gayer 0-0 0-0 0, Jacob Bahe 4-7 0-0 8. Totals 19-43 4-5 45.
OSKALOOSA (23-3) — Spencer Tucker 2-4 0-1 6, Tanner DeKock 0-0 2-2 2, Xavier Foster 5-5 0-8 11, Cole Henry 4-9 3-5 11, Jarad Kruse 7-13 2-7 16, Jackson Blythe 0-0 0-0 0, Rian Yates 0-0 2-2 2, Tucker Nunnikhoven 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-31 9-25 48.
Waverly-S.R. 7 10 17 11 — 45
Oskaloosa 14 11 11 12 — 48
3-point goals — Oskaloosa 3-5 (Tucker 2-3, Foster 1-1, Kruse 0-1), W-SR 3-14 (Seward 2-8, Holmquist 0-1, Velky 1-4, Bahe 0-1). Rebounds — Oskaloosa 26 (Foster 8), W-SR 22 (Velky, Bahe 6). Assists — Oskaloosa 9 (Henry, Yates 3), W-SR 6 (Holmquist 5). Turnovers — Oskaloosa 11 (Tucker, Henry 4), W-SR 8 (Holmquist 2). Blocks — Oskaloosa 4 (Foster 3), W-SR 0. Steals — Oskaloosa 1 (Kruse), W-SR 10 (Velky 3). Total fouls — Oskaloosa 12, W-SR 20. Fouled out — none.