DUNKERTON — Standing over a 15-footer with an opportunity to win a major, Zach Johnson, the Dunkerton basketball player, delivered.
Johnson knocked down a pair of clutch free throws with 49 seconds remaining as Class 1A’s No. 9 Dunkerton held off a fierce comeback attempt by No. 4 Don Bosco, 59-55, in a cross-divisional battle of Iowa Star Conference teams that entered Tuesday night with perfect records.
“I always want to shoot those free throws at the end,” said Johnson who extended a three-point lead to five late as part of his team-high 20 points. “That’s the role I want. Hit those free throws to send them home, and get the dub. I’m pretty confident that all our players can do that, though.”
Indeed, it took a team effort at the free throw line for Dunkerton to avoid a complete collapse. Don Bosco rallied from a 24-point deficit midway through the third quarter to make it a three-point contest on a pair of Cael Tenold free throws with 2 minutes, 23 seconds remaining.
Dunkerton offset a 1 of 10 fourth quarter effort from the field, including multiple missed layups, with three different players combining to convert all eight of the team’s free throw attempts in the final stanza. After Don Bosco made it a one-possession game, the Raiders (10-0) ran a minute off the clock before Johnson’s free throws and came up with the late stops to seal the victory.
Kaleb Westendorf added 13 points and Brady Happel finished with 12 to complement Johnson’s big game boosted by four 3-pointers.
“With as good of a team as they are, we kind of know they’re going to make a run,” Dunkerton co-head coach Brian Brungard said. “We got away from what made us successful the first three quarters. We didn’t rebound like we should have the fourth quarter and we missed a lot of bunnies.
“But we made the plays that mattered. We said one stop that last timeout — that’s all we needed — and we got it done.”
Don Bosco (8-1) certainly displayed plenty of fight in this rematch of a one-point playoff loss suffered to Dunkerton that ended last year’s 21-2 season.
The Dons were competing without lead scorer Jack Kelley, who is resting a hip injury. Starter Zach Huff also fouled out with 3:23 to play, yet Don Bosco coach Nate Kellogg said it was Dunkerton’s pressure and tenacity on the offensive boards that made the difference.
Combining strong in-your-face defense with unselfish and fluid ball movement on offense, Dunkerton constructed a 14-point halftime lead that was extended with a 12-2 run to start the third quarter.
Senior Zach Nie led Don Bosco’s rally by hitting three of his five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as part of a game-high 21-point comeback effort that fell just short.
“We know the chaos that Dunk likes to play with and it’s really hard for us to replicate what it’s like in practice,” Kellogg said. “Credit to Dunk because that’s a hard style to play against and it’s a hard style to prepare for.
“We’re excited for the next time we play them at our house and hopefully it’s as fun of a game.”
In addition to the anticipated return of Kelley later this season, Don Bosco will add Michael Allen — a transfer from Waterloo West — who figures to play varsity minutes when eligible on Jan. 23.
For a Dunkerton team that’s off to another promising start, slamming the door shut will be a point of emphasis going forward.
“We hit a lot of 3s, we got a big lead early, and we were sharing the ball really well,” Johnson said. “But we’ve got to find a way to keep going and not give that up like we did.
“You don’t want to let them stay in there and hang around. That just makes it more scarier in the fourth quarter.”
Dunkerton 59, Don Bosco 55
DON BOSCO (8-1) — Zach Huff 2-9 0-0 4, Zach Nie 8-17 0-0 21, Cael Tenold 1-4 3-4 5, Sean McFadden 6-13 2-4 14, Clayton Weber 1-2 0-0 2, Kendell Becker 3-10 1-5 7, Lewis Havel 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 22-58 4-11 55.
DUNKERTON (10-0) — Zach Johnson 6-14 4-4 20, Travis Schake 0-1 0-0 0, Brady Happel 4-12 3-4 12, Kaleb Westendorf 5-13 2-3 13, Dalton Burch 1-8 4-4 6, George Peterson 2-3 0-0 4, Brady Stone 2-4 0-0 4, Aaron Garbes 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-56 13-16 59.
Don Bosco 14 7 13 21 — 55
Dunkerton 15 20 14 10 — 59
3-point goals—Don Bosco 5 (Nie 5), Dunkerton 6 (Johnson 4, Happel, Westendorf). Total fouls—Don Bosco 11, Dunkerton 11. Fouled out—Huff.