By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
There was a brief moment just eight games into his senior season when Cooper Kabela began to wonder if his final shot at a conference title may have slipped away.
A three-game losing skid dropped West Branch to 3-4 in River Valley Conference games and had Kabela questioning how his final prep season would end.
“Maybe,” Kabela replied when asked if he thought his team was out of the conference race. “When we lost those games, we had four or five losses in conference I thought that but I also never stopped thinking we had a chance.”
Keeping the faith has paid off for Kabela and the Bears.
Seven weeks after falling to 3-4 in conference play West Branch has a chance to close out the River Valley South Division title.
Since its three-game losing skid West Branch (14-5) has won 10 of 11 games and eight straight and can clinch the RVC South title with a win over Durant on Tuesday.
“At the beginning of the season we were .500 and it was a little iffy but we knew we had more in the tank,” West Branch sophomore Ted Bridges said. “We just had to push through and we are still climbing but we are a lot further than where we were.”
At 12-5 West Branch holds a slight lead over Regina (10-6) in the South Division standings.
West Brach put itself in the drivers’ seat with a 56-54 win over the Regals last week and can win the South division title outright after Regina lost at sixth-ranked on Friday.
“It’s absolutely huge,” West Branch coach Tom Burger said. “West Branch has not won an RVC title and we still have to get Durant but fortunately that game is at home.”
Even during its 3-4 start in conference play West Branch was close to breaking through.
The three consecutive losses that dropped West Branch below .500 in league play were road games at 2A No. 3 Cascade and Regina and a home loss to No. 6 Camanche.
“The thing that I’ve really been impressed with our guys is we’ve been competitive in every game,” Burger said “I knew that if we could be competitive with the North schools we are going to win a lot of games in the south.”
West Branch won games over Mid-Prairie and Durant before a five-point home loss to Northeast on January 6.
Since then the Bears have been perfect.
West Branch has rattled off eight straight wins, seven of them conference victories to take control of the South Division race.
“We are finishing games,” Kabela said. “The first half of the season we couldn’t get over the hump and now we are actually finishing and getting over the hump.”
If finishing games is the biggest difference for West Branch during its winning streak then offensive balance is a close second.
In the first eight games of the season West Branch had three double digit scoring performances that didn’t come from its two leading scorers, Kabela and sophomore guard Beau Cornwell.
Over the last 11 games the Bears have had nine double digit scoring efforts from players outside its top two scorers.
A player beside Cornwell or Kabela has scored double figures in seven of the eight games during the Bears’ current winning streak.
In the first eight games Kabela, who averages a team-high 22.9 points per game and has scored in double figures in every game this season, and Cornwell accounted for 68.5 of the scoring for West Branch.
Over the last 11 games that number has dropped to 61.5 percent.
“You can’t really focus on a couple of people,” Kabela said. “We have five guys that are capable of scoring on any given night and teams are starting to have to learn that they have respect that.”
Playoff Pairings: The postseason paths for Class 1A and 2A teams were revealed last week when the Iowa High School Athletic Association released District pairings.
In Class 2A, District 8 West Branch will open postseason play by hosting the Wapello and Wilton winner in a district semifinal on February 16 at 7 p.m.
The District 8 title game is February 21 at Muscatine. West Burlington is the top seed in District 8 and will host the winner of Tipton and Mediapolis in the other semifinal.
In Class 2A, District 9 Regina will face the Central Lee and Columbus winner in a semifinal double header in Wellman at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 16.
Top-seeded Highland will face the winner of Louisa-Muscatine and Mid-Prairie in the other semifinal.
Ratings Update: West High remained number one in Class 4A in the latest Associated Press poll released on Monday.
Following West High in the 4A rankings are Dubuque Senior, Sioux City East, Waukee and Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln.
Other top-ranked teams include Waverly-Shell Rock (3A), Western Christian (2A) and North Linn (1A).
Top performances: City High senior Chuck Johnson had 15 points and 13 rebounds in an 83-65 loss to Cedar Rapids Prairie.
West Branch senior Cooper Kabela had 26 points and seven rebounds in a 56-54 win over Regina.
Regina freshman Even Brauns had 16 points and 11 rebounds in a 56-54 loss to West Branch.
West High sophomore Patrick McCaffery had 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting and nine rebounds in an 83-53 win over Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
Clear Creek Amana senior Tyler Hallett had 23 points and 10 rebounds in a 61-52 win over Washington.