Courtesy of the Des Moines Register
The saying is to always throw records out the window come tournament time and that held true Monday as the 6-16 Southeast Polk Rams upset the 16-6 Norwalk Warriors 76-65 in the first round of the Class 4A Region 8 bracket.
"The guys just played relaxed and near tournament time they just have to go out there and play as hard as they can and that's all you can ask them to do, and that's what they did," said Southeast Polk Head Coach Matt Carter.
Norwalk had won this year with stingy defense and a relatively clean sheet of basketball but Southeast Polk rammed its way through that with a stellar shooting night led by senior Keegan Van Kootan who had 18 points.
"I'll give all the respect to SEP they shot the ball really well tonight and I just don't think we played our best game, which you know, that's what tournament basketball is all about," said Norwalk Head Coach Chris Larson. "Two years ago we played Urbandale and I felt we were outmanned but tonight I was frustrated because I don't feel like we played basketball like we knew we could."
The Warriors led briefly in the first half, taking a one point lead on two different instances but that was the extent of Norwalk's time ahead.
Southeast Polk set the tone of the game when Jackson Cole stole an inbounds pass and hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer, making it 28-21 Rams at the break.
Norwalk sophomore guard Luke Vaske finished with 23 points and gave Norwalk an initial jolt out of the locker room but the Warriors never got closer than nine as missed free throws and turnovers stunted any comeback.
"That being said, I think that's one of the steps [getting comfortable against bigger schools] for us as we go play bigger schools," Larson said. "I think it's a mentality and something we have to work on, because it took us about three and a half quarters to wake up and play."
Three finished in double-figures for Southeast Polk. Garrett Northway hit a series of big shots early, finishing with 16 points and Cole chipped in with 14.
For Norwalk, senior post player Michael Geistler had one of his most productive nights all year, scoring 22 in the loss. Geistler joins Jake Potratz, Matt Guessford, Jackson Wright, Will Fraser and Matt Fraser as seniors Norwalk loses next year.
"We had a kickoff to the tournament last night and talked about all of our seniors, and they are an amazing group of young men," Larson said. "We are disappointed in the loss but I am really proud to have coached them. What they have done for us and me transcends basketball."
Southeast Polk advances to face CIML rival Ankeny Centennial in the substate semifinals Friday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. in Ankeny. Centennial took both games against Southeast Polk earlier this season.
"It's always tough playing a conference team for the third time but if you go out and play as hard as we did tonight we will have a chance," Carter said.