Tom Burger’s used to messages filling up his inbox. He’s the general manager of operations and advertising for two weekly newspapers, the West Branch Times and West Liberty Index, so lots of people need him for lots of reasons.
But the recent texts and Facebook messages from friends, family and West Branch community members — those are different. They’re wishes of good luck for Burger’s second job: head boys’ basketball coach of the West Branch Bears.
On Saturday night, West Branch (18-5) will travel to Muscatine to play No. 6 Camanche (21-2) for a chance at its first state tournament berth in school history.
“I think there’s definitely some excitement around here,” Burger said. “As well there should be.”
The Bears (18-5) haven’t lost since Jan.6 — three days before Clemson beat Alabama for the national championship — and have rattled off 12 straight wins.
And none of the 12 have really been close. West Branch is averaging 67.6 points in those games, compared with its opponents’ 52.3 points.
The closest: a 70-63 win at Bellevue on Jan. 20.
The most one-sided: a 75-36 shellacking of Wilton on Jan. 10.
The most important: a 68-56 win over Durant on Feb. 7, clinching the Bears’ first River Valley Conference South Division title since 2000 and just their fourth overall.
“I think it would be huge, especially for our basketball program never being there,” Burger said of advancing to state. “Getting the kids excited. Football’s been there quite a few times. Baseball’s been there within the last five years. Track usually goes. So it would be huge for the basketball program, too.”
West Branch’s success comes, more or less, from a simple plan: Cooper Kabela and Beau Cornwell shoulder the scoring, and everyone combines for scrappy team defense.
Kabela, a 6-foot-5 forward who also played wide receiver and quarterback for the Bears, nets 23.5 points per game — fourth-most in Class 3A. And Cornwell, a 6-foot-1 point guard who was supposed to be quarterback before breaking his collarbone, scores 18.9 a game — 17th-most in 3A.
Ben Thompson is third with nine points per game. But he’s proven he can break out in the box score, too. He led the Bears with 20 in their substate semifinal win over Tipton on Tuesday.
Camanche made headlines recently by dropping 103 in a 30-point win against Regina. It handled Bellevue, 78-45, back in late November. It boasts four guys averaging double figures: Dakota Soenksen (18.6), Dylan Hundley (15.7), Cameron Soenksen (13.7) and Dev Patel (12.5).
“They’re long and athletic and it’ll definitely be a challenge for us to come out of there,” Burger said. “But we’re going to give it everything we can to make it difficult for them and to make history on our side.”
Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.