After a 47-39 win over Belle to open the Class 3, District 9 tournament at Dixon last week, the fourth-seeded Linn Wildcats were primed for a challenging game against top-seed Steelville. …
After a 47-39 win over Belle to open the Class 3, District 9 tournament at Dixon last week, the fourth-seeded Linn Wildcats were primed for a challenging game against top-seed Steelville.
“To quote Dennis Green back in the day, ‘they were who we thought they were;’ a very good passing team, with a high IQ. In my opinion, this is one of the best teams we’ve played all year,” said Coach Braden Ham. “For everything they threw at us, nothing was surprising. We knew what to expect.”
While the boys lost 88-59, Ham is pleased with the effort and progress he’s seen.
“We grew up a ton upstairs, you know, the six inches between your ears,” he said following last Wednesday’s semifinal against Cardinals, ranked fifth in Class 3. “It’s like a roller coaster of highs and lows. We had high highs and low lows because when you’re going through the learning process, you’re gonna have those.”
Ham added he told the Wildcats in the locker room that this team is resilient. “When you hit the floor, how high do you bounce?” Ham said. “We don’t fall flat; we bounce back.”
Unfortunately, the Wildcats started the game slowly, scoring nine points in the first as the Cardinals jumped to a 12-point lead.
“We missed some shots,” Ham acknowledged, his team covering 16-41 from two-point range (38.2%) and 5-14 from beyond the arc. At the stripe, however, the Wildcats hit 12-14 (85.7%). “We also had too many turnovers, but that’s a credit to Steelville. Every time we turned around, there was a white jersey stuck to us like glue.”
Noah Hall, who led with 17 points, hit two treys in the second, finished with three on the night, and went 4-4 at the stripe. He played well despite being face-guarded or double-teamed most of the game.
Austin Dudenhoeffer sunk two free throws with 9.3 seconds to go in the frame. He finished 3-4 at the line and posted 13 points.
Linn scored 22 in the second but trailed 46-31 at the break.
The Wildcats opened the third with four unanswered points, and Steelville called for a timeout. Linn stayed within 10 points most of the quarter, but at the start of the fourth, they trailed 57-44.
“We maintained a good sense of presence all night, and what we didn’t do, we will work to fix,” said Ham. “I’m just really proud of what we did do because of where we started the season and where we finished. We are better leaders than when we started. Our minds are healthier towards each other. There are times when you compete that you get after each other. That’s just competition, but at the end of the game, they picked each other up. We improved our togetherness and communication. What we did will carry over to next year.”
Lone senior Zach Dodson was 5-6 from the FT line and scored 11 to go with 10 rebounds and three blocks. “He gave us what he could, and I love him to death for it,” said Ham. “When you have one senior, that means everybody else is younger. Our juniors will step up, and that’s going to layer the leadership. Next year, I’m counting on four, and then the sophomores will be juniors. I don’t know how many I’ll have, but it’s more than one. When you play teams like Steelville, you expect to win with good leadership from top to bottom.”
Ashton Keilholz drained a pair of three-pointers and finished with 10 points, while Seth Wolfe put in eight.
Keilholz led in the assists with four as Dudenhoeffer had three, and Gus Peters, Dodson, and Hall posted two apiece.
Dudenhoeffer and Keilholz added five rebounds each to the mix, followed by Hall (4), Wolfe (3), and Bobby Winkelman and Peters (1 apiece).
Defensively, Hall counted a steal and a block, Dudenhoeffer and Keilholz each had a block, and Wolfe finished with three steals.
In last Monday’s district opener, the Wildcats entered the fourth quarter tied at 33 with Belle and used a 14-6 advantage to claim victory.
Hall led with 18 points, including two treys and a 6-6 night at the line. Dodson added 11, Keilholz drained three treys for his nine points, Wolfe (2-2 FT) put in six, Dudenhoeffer posted two, and Zach Hatfield counted one. Hatfield led with five assists as Wolfe dished the ball thrice, Dodson twice, and Keilholz and Hall once each.
On the rebounding front, Wolfe had a team-high six; Hall added three, Keilholz and Dodson grabbed two apiece, and Peters and Hatfield finished with one each.
Dodson recorded a steal and the team’s lone block, and Hatfield, Wolfe, and Hall each added a steal.
Ham said he’s impressed with Assistant Coach Clint Finkemeier. “He’s excellent analytically, seeing a detail, letting me know that detail in a simplistic way, and then relaying that to the kids in real-time,” Ham said. “He did that well throughout the year.”
Linn ended the year with a record of 12-15 and will hold its awards banquet at 6:45 p.m. on March 16 in the high school cafeteria.
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