By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Cooper Kabela knows his high school basketball career will be coming to an end soon.
Sometime in the next few weeks Kabela will play his final high school game.
In the meantime, the West Branch senior is doing everything he can to keep his career going and go have some fun in the process.
Kabela and his teammates succeeded into doing both those things on Thursday.
The 6-foot-4 Kabela scored 33 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead West Branch to a 75-63 win over Wapello (14-9) in a Class 2A, District 8 semifinal in West Branch.
“I didn’t want this to be my last game,” Kabela said. “I actually talked about that with younger guys think before the game, you don’t think about playing your last game but it comes faster than you think. They don’t want to be done, I don’t want to be done and we just want to keep playing because we are having fun.”
West Branch (17-5) had plenty of fun on Thursday, shooting 58 percent from the field while running its winning streak to 11 straight.
The two teams combined for 53 percent shooting in an up and down, fast-paced and mostly foul-free contest.
Kabela and Beau Cornwell combined for 61 of the 75 points for West Branch as the Bears advanced to the District 8 title game where they will face River Valley Conference rival Tipton (13-10) for the third time this season.
“That was a great game, a great high school game,” West Branch Burger said. “It’s one of those times you’d rather be a fan than coaching.”
The lone senior contributor on a team that starts two sophomores and a freshman Kabela is the unquestioned leader for the West Branch.
For the better part of the last month Kabela has looked more and more like a player that doesn’t want to see his career end.
He looks like a guy having fun, because he is.
“It was just back-and-forth, they made shots, we made shots and they go on a run and then we’d answer,” Kabela said. “It was up and down, it was just a fun game.”
It was Kabela who had the most fun on Thursday.
The senior made 15-of-19 field goals including both of his 3-point attempts on his way to his eighth consecutive game with 25 points or more.
“We didn’t have an answer for their big guy, he’s physical and he’s just good,” Wapello coach Ken Spielbauer said. “He’s a good player.”
Neither team had much separation until the final three minutes of a back-and-forth first half.
West Branch closed the second quarter on a 10-2 run to break open a one-point game and took a 37-28 halftime lead when Tanner Lukavsky beat the halftime buzzer with a layup.
“I thought that was huge,” Burger said of the run to end the half. “People always say that you have to weather the storm and we kept trying to put them away and they wouldn’t go away.”
West Branch took its biggest lead of the game at 44-30 on a Cornwell 3-pointer with 6:19 left in the third quarter.
The Indians wouldn’t go quietly.
Wapello used an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 48-43 and trailed 57-49 after three quarters.
A conventional 3-point play by Keaton Mitchell cut the West Branch lead to 57-54 with 6:29 left but Cornwell answered with the shot of the game.
The sophomore guard hit a transition 3-pointer with 6:20 left to put West Branch up 60-54 and Wapello never got closer than five points the rest of the way.
“I wanted that shot,” Cornwell said. “I was kind of hesitant to pull it but right when I did I knew it was going in.”
Cornwell made eight consecutive free throws in the final 1:26 to put the game away and finished with 28 points.
“It was back and forth the whole time,” Cornwell said. “We got some separation and were able to hold them off.”
Trenton Massner, who entered averaging 23 points per game, scored 20 to lead three Wapello players in double figures.
Sam Short had 14 points and Gage Witt added 10 for the Indians.
“They are very tough to guard, their posts did some things tonight that we weren’t expecting,” Burger said. “You have to know that Massner is going to get his points but it’s those x-factors that you don’t prepare for and I thought they did a good job.”
West Branch 19 18 20 18 – 75
Wapello 19 9 21 14 – 63
West Branch (75) – Beau Cornwell 8-15 8-8 28, Brady Lukavsky 0-1 0-0 0, Tanner Lukavsky 2-4 1-1 5, Brett Schiele 0-1 0-0 0, Cooper Kabela 15-19 1-3 33, Ben Thompson 2-6 1-1 5, Ted Bridges 1-3 2-2 4, Team 28-48 13-15 75.
Wapello (63) – Trace Howard 0-2 0-0 0, Logan Belzer 0-5 0-0 0, Sam Short 7-8 0-0 14, Trenton Massner 7-16 3-5 20, Gage Witte 4-10 0-0 10, Jared Wiley 3-5 0-0 9, Keaton Mitchell 2-5 3-3 7, Koby Boysen 1-1 1-3 3, Team 25-52 7-11 63.
3-point field goals – WB 6-14 (Cornwell 4-10, B. Lukavsky 0-1, T. Lukavsky 0-1, Kabela 2-2), WAP (Howard 0-1, Belzer 0-4, Massner 3-8, Gage Witte 2-3, Wiley 1-1). Rebounds – WB 26 (Kabela 11), WAP 25 (Witte 10). Turnovers – WB 10, WAP 10. Total fouls – WB 12, WAP 14. Fouled out – WAP (Massner). Technical fouls – None.