STUART — Interstate 35 head boys basketball coach Nate Rankin looked like a nervous wreck after Monday’s game here.
His team had put him through the emotional wringer, engaging in a back-and-forth battle with West Central Valley in a Class 2A District 14 opener, before coming out on top 52-49.
For a moment in the first half, it looked like the Roadrunners might have a chance to put the pedal down and pull away from the Wildcats, building a 24-17 lead late in the first half.
But junior post player Zach Goering picked up his second foul of the game with 1:56 to go in the half and West Central Valley went inside on three straight possessions to cut the lead to 24-23 at halftime.
Then, the Wildcats opened the second half on a 9-2 run for a 32-26 lead.
That’s when Taylor O’Dea stepped up big for the Roadrunners, scoring six straight points.
O’Dea started his run with a drive to the basket. Then, he got an offensive rebound with his back to the basket, spun around and got the putback. He finished it off by taking a pass from Jaylan White and finishing with a finger roll to tie the game at 32-32.
West Central Valley took a 34-32 lead on a Bryce Kearns offensive rebound and putback.
But Jaylan and Jamal White went to work over the next several minutes, building a 42-40 lead for the Roadrunners thanks to six straight points from Jamal White, including a buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter.
Still, the two teams went back-and-forth, with West Central Valley taking a 45-44 lead on a Kearns drive to the basket with less than four minutes left.
Daniel Kennedy picked up a long defensive rebound, led the break down the court and bounced a pass to Lucas Ealy under the basket for a layup to give Interstate 35 a 46-45 lead.
After Jamal White sank 2-of-4 free throws, the Roadrunners led 48-45 with 1:03 left in the game.
Kearns cut the lead to 48-47, when Ealy picked up a loose ball in the lane and went up for shot, getting fouled in the process. The shot dropped, giving Interstate a 50-47 lead.
Jaylan White made two free throws in the final 30 seconds before the Wildcats got a basket with one second left on the clock for the final 52-49 margin.
Getting big plays down the stretch from O’Dea, Kennedy and Ealy was big for the Roadrunners.
“It’s not about scoring with those guys,” Rankin said. “It’s about getting something defensively and offensively out of them. Good touches, good solid rebounds, something. Taylor came out, we were down six and he scored six straight. And he had two good looks that rolled out.”
Those plays, coupled with 18 points from Jaylan White and 16 from Jamal White propelled Interstate 35 to the win.
The Roadrunners held on despite shooting just 9-of-20 from the free throw line.
“That’s not good enough,” Rankin said. “Next round we’ll have to be better. I thought execution wise, we got good looks all night, we just didn’t hit some shots.”
It was a hard fought win for Interstate 35, which had to play on the road against a West Central Valley team that entered with a 5-16 record.
“We struggled a little bit,” Rankin said. “It was kind of a chess match. We just hit a couple shots down at the end.”
For a Roadrunner team that is filled with youth, Rankin said a postseason win could go a long way as far as building confidence.
The Roadrunners advance to Thursday’s district semifinal game at Des Moines Christian against the fourth-ranked Bears (20-1). Game time is scheduled for 8 p.m.
“Not only getting good minutes from those kids and experience, but I know in my heart we’re talented,” he said. “I think we can compete with anybody. If we can knock down some shots, we can compete with anybody on our schedule. Des Moines Christian, they’re ranked, they have everything to lose. We’ve got nothing to lose.”
INTERSTATE 35 (52) — Jaylan White 6 4-8 18, Jamal White 7 2-6 16, Taylor O’Dea 3 2-2 8, Cole Daniels 1 1-1 4, Lucas Ealy 2 0-3 4, Dan Kennedy 1 0-0 2. Totals — 20 9-20 52. 3-point goals — 3 (Jaylan White 2, Daniels 1). Team fouls — 12. Fouled out — Zach Goering.
WEST CENTRAL VALLEY (49) — Bryce Kearns 8 5-7 21, Jackson Doud 7 2-3 16, Max Lincoln 2 1-2 6, Preston Brittain 1 0-0 2, Austin Cook 1 0-1 2, Lucas Love 1 0-0 2. Totals — 20 8-13 49. 3-point goals — 1 (Lincoln 1). Team fouls — 20. Fouled out — Lincoln.