The question at issue was who’s more playoff-ready? Would you believe it wasn’t West High on Tuesday night?
In a fan’s dream postseason dress rehearsal and a late-season showdown of elite teams, Class 3A top-ranked Dubuque Wahlert was a bucket more Des Moines-ready than Class 4A’s two-time defending state champion.
An uncontainable Cordell Pemsl had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and Jared Walker hit a contested go-ahead, tide-turning 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter to power the Golden Eagles to a breathless 67-64 victory over hobbled Class 4A No. 2 West.
The game was a close shave from the tip to the final buzzer. David DiLeo, whose five 3-pointers kept the Trojans alive to the finish, missed a pivotal game-tying trey attempt from the left wing with 6.6 seconds left. Pemsl, a 6-foot-7 sophomore center who’s on national power Wichita State’s recruiting radar, pulled down the biggest rebound of his career to help Wahlert hang on and take down a rival that has had its number for years.
“Before the game, Coach (Tom English) wrote two words on the board: ‘Pretender or contender,’ ” Pemsl said of Wahlert, which is hunting its first 3A state title since 2008. “At halftime, he erased ‘Contender.’ we just put it back up there. I think we sent a message to all of Class 3A.”
West (17-2, 13-2 Mississippi Valley Conference) still had a chance to force overtime when Wahlert’s Josh Carter missed two free throws with 5.5 seconds left. But Connor McCaffery’s running 35-foot 3-pointer at the horn fell short, giving the Eagles (17-3) the win and the MVC regular-season championship to 4A No. 1-ranked Dubuque Senior. West coach Steve Bergman, whose short-handed club was missing three of its top-eight players, said his club lacked the necessary grittiness in the clutch.
“That’s what cost us the game: Toughness,” Bergman said. “We’ve finished in tough environments before. We finished at (Cedar Rapids Xavier) Friday night. We didn’t finish tonight.”
What’s burning up the Trojans is how close they were to pulling this one out. West led most of the game and took a 56-53 lead into the fourth quarter. But its inability to stop Pemsl or Wahlert in half court in the fourth quarter doomed West.
“What’s going to keep us from our goals is our half-court defense,” Bergman said. “We scored plenty of points tonight, we just didn’t play very good defense.
“(Pemsl’s) a tough matchup for us,” Bergman said. “He uses his body. He’s a tough matchup for us. We don’t have the bodies to post him. Our goal was to touch him as little as possible.”
West didn’t shoot great either. A 7-for-24 night at the 3-point line — where DiLeo was the Trojans’ only reliable offense — also burned West.
Wyatt Lohaus and DiLeo paced the Trojans with 23 points apiece.
WEST HIGH – Wali Parks 0-0 0-2 0, Adam Klein 4-5 0-2 10, Wyatt Lohaus 9-20 5-5 23, Nick Gallagher 2-7 0-0 5, Connor McCaffery 1-6 0-0 2, Malik Williams 0-2 0-0 0, David DiLeo 9-13 0-0 23, Chike Ukah 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-54 5-8 63.
DUBUQUE WAHLERT – Jared Walker 4-9 0-3 9, Nolan Timp 5-6 3-4 13, Cordell Pemsl 9-15 6-9 24, Cam Adams 0-0 2-2 2, Josh Carter 3-6 5-10 11, Tyler Potts 2-8 0-0 6, Matthew Hoffmann 1-1 0-0 2, Judd Ott 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 24-45 16-30 67.
3-point goals – ICW: DiLeo 5, Klein 2; DW: Potts 2, Walker. Team fouls – West 19; Wahlert 14. Fouled out – ICW: Ukah, Gallagher. Rebounds – Wahlert 27; West 24,