By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Cooper Kabela did his usual damage for West Branch on Tuesday night. Beau Cornwell had his flashes of brilliance as well.
With first place in the River Valley Conference South Division on the line it was one of the Bears’ other players that stepped up biggest.
Sophomore Ted Bridges hit the go-ahead 15-foot jumper with 1:21 left and West Branch held on for a 56-54 win over Regina in a battle of RVC South Division leaders in front of a near capacity crowd at West Branch.
“Right before he shot it I said quietly to him, ‘hit it’,” West Branch coach Tom Burger said. “I don’t know if he heard me but he had confidence enough to hit it and that was huge.”
Kabela had a game-high 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds and Cornwell had 12 points as West Branch put itself in the RVC South Division drivers’ seat.
The Bears improved to 13-5 on the season and 11-5 in RVC play to move atop the South Division standings and avenge a 76-62 loss to Regina in the first meeting in December.
“It’s huge not even for what it means in implications for the conference or anything but we went over there and we flat got embarrassed,” Kabela said. “So just come back and do what we did tonight that is a huge confidence boost for our whole team.”
While Kabela and Cornwell accounted for 38 of the Bears 56 points it was Bridges, who entered averaging 3.6 points per game, who accounted for the game’s biggest play.
Trialing by a point in the final 90 seconds Burger drew up a play to get the ball to Kabela on the block.
Regina double-teamed the 6-foot-5 Kabela and left Bridges open on the baseline.
He made Regina pay, hitting a 15-foot jumper that gave West Branch a lead it would never give up.
“Coach was in my ear yelling ‘shoot it’,” Bridges said. “Kabela was getting doubled and I just decided to take it.”
Burger wasn’t the only one yelling at Bridges to shoot the ball.
As soon as Kabela saw the double team coming he shouted at his teammate.
“I was yelling at him to shoot it, Ted’s 15 foot jumper is so good, honestly we always tell him that if he open from there shoot it,” Kabela said. “We have a lot of confidence in him. They left him open and he did what he does.”
Regina (11-7, 10-5 RVC) still had chances as West Branch made just 1-of-3 free throws in the final 1:04.
The Regals had the ball with a chance to win in the final 20 seconds but a deep 3-pointer by Jake Phillips was off the mark as time expired.
“I thought our effort was good,” Regina coach Stu Ordman said. “We had all kinds of different guys make really good plays but we need to improve our defense and we need to cut down our turnovers if we do that we will be pretty tough.”
Regina led 27-23 with under two minutes to play in the first half but West Branch finished with a flurry.
Brett Schiele hit a 3-pointer and a free throw to tie the score at 27 and Cornwell beat the halftime buzzer with a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key to give West Branch a 30-29 halftime lead.
Regina opened the third quarter with seven unanswered points to take a 36-30 lead and led 46-43 after three quarters.
West Branch scored the first six points of the third quarter, four coming from Kabela, to take a 49-46 lead.
Kabela finished 11-of-21 from the field and led all scorers with 26 points.
“I think Cooper has decided I have three games left in my career potentially at West Branch and I am going to make the rest of it,” Burger said. “He was excellent.”
A Jocoa Kerschen 3-pointer tied the score at 49 as the two teams went back and forth over the final five minutes.
Regina took its final lead at 54-53 on a basket by Sam Stein with 2:47 left.
West Branch only scored three points in the final three minutes but it was enough as it held Regina scoreless for the last 2:47.
“In the first half they got a lot of things and we talked about a couple of sets that they run that they were getting really easy looks on and I just think it was awareness,” Kabela said. “We were more aware in the second half of what they were doing and we were able to get some stops.”
Freshman Even Brauns led Regina with 16 points and 12 rebounds while Kerschen had 10 points and 11 boards.
Bridges finished with seven points for West Branch.
“We do what we need to do and get the ball to Kabela but we had some other guys step up,” Burger said. “Tonight that was Ted.”
West Branch 6 24 13 13 – 56
Regina 9 20 17 8 – 54
West Branch (56) – Beau Cornwell 3-16 4-4 12, Tanner Lukavsky 1-2 0-1 2, Brett Schiele 1-2 1-2 4, Cooper Kabela 11-21 2-3 26, Ben Thompson 2-6 1-2 5, Ted Bridges 3-6 1-2 7, Team 21-53 9-14 56.
Regina (54) – Masen Miller 3-6 0-0 9, Jack Jensen 1-2 0-0 0, 2, Jocoa Kerschen 4-11 0-0 10, Zach Seaman 1-1 1-1 3, Jake Phillips 3-7 0-0 8, Sam Stein 3-5 0-0 6, Even Brauns 8-15 0-1 16, Team 23-47 1-2 54.
3-point field goals – ICR 7-19 (Miller 3-6, Kerschen 2-7, Phillips 2-4, Stein 0-2), WB 5-19 (Cornwell 2-11, Lukavsky 0-1, Schiele 1-2, Kabela 2-3, Thompson 0-2). Rebounds – ICR 33 (Brauns 12), WB 27 (Kabela 9). Turnovers – ICR 6, WB 13. Total fouls – ICR 15, WB 9. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.