Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – When you are at the top of the mountain, or in the case of the West Branch basketball team the top of the conference, everyone wants to knock you off.
West Branch is still getting used to its role as king of the mountain but the Bears showed on Friday they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Class 2A No. 10 West Branch rallied from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to down Mid-Prairie 44-41 in a River Valley Conference South Division thriller in West Branch.
“We told them going in when you win the conference last year you have that target on your back,” West Branch coach Jason Kern said. “We knew we were going to get everyone’s best shot and we tell them we have to be ready to play every night. It doesn’t matter if it’s Mid-Prairie, Camanche, Regina even the teams that haven’t been as good are going to give us their best shot and our guys have been ready for it.”
West Branch claimed a share of the South Division last season, just its second conference title since 2000.
On Friday the Bears took another big step toward an outright title in 2021.
West Branch closed the game on an 18-4 run while improving to 9-0 on the season and in RVC play and snapping a five-game winning streak for Mid-Prairie (5-2, 5-1) and handing the Golden Hawks their first conference loss of the season.
“I am so proud of our guys, they are just relentless and never give up,” Kern said. “It just shows the mentality of this group. A lot of teams would have quit when we got down 11 or 12 late in the third quarter and our guys just kept going.”
The first meeting of two scheduled meetings between the two long-time rivals had a conference championship type feel from the outset.
West Branch led 18-16 at the half after a late 3-pointer by freshman point guard Holden Arnaman.
Mid-Prairie seized control in the second half, outscoring West Branch 17-6 in the third quarter to build a 33-24 lead.
Senior center Aidan Rath converted all six of his field goal attempts and scored 12 of his team-high 16 points during the Golden Hawk third-quarter run.
Mid-Prairie continually fed the ball to leading scorer Carter Harmsen in the high post who found Rath under the basket for point blank attempts.
“They were getting the dump down every time because our zone couldn’t adjust fast enough,” West Branch senior center Jeff Bowie said. “We ended up making the adjustment in the fourth quarter.”
West Branch eventually did adjust and just in time.
Rath scored his final points of the game 27 seconds into the fourth quarter off a feed from Harmsen.
Harmsen scored while being fouled on the ensuing possession to five Mid-Prairie a 37-26 lead with 6:25 left.
West Branch quickly went to work whittling away at the lead.
“We knew we weren’t going to get all seven or eight points back in one possession,” Kern said. “We had to get a stop and score and a stop and a score and they put their heads down and went to work.”
West Branch cut the lead to six on an Arnaman 3-pointer with 5:36 left and after a Harmsen basket the Bears rattled off eight consecutive points to tie the score at 39.
Bowie had six of his game-high 19 points during the 8-0 burst that spanned 2:45.
“Holden Arnaman stepped up big for us late, he really grew tonight, Jeff Bowie was big there in the fourth,” Kern said. “We just had so many guys step up for us and that’s how it is every night, we don’t’ care who gets what points, who is playing in front of who it’s a great group of kids that is there for one another.”
Mid-Prairie took the lead at 41-39 on a pair of free throws from Harmsen with 1:46 left but Bowie made the big plays late.
The 6-foot-5 Bowie gave West Branch the lead for good with a conventional 3-point play with 1:23 left.
Bowie then gave the Bears a 44-41 when he rattled home a 15-foot baseline jumper with 38 seconds left.
“We were down and we could have just stopped,” Bowie said. “We decided to keep going and we kept the energy.”
Bowie had 11 points in the fourth quarter and score the final nine West Branch points.
“I told him the first three quarters he was being kind of soft, he was arguing a few calls and I told him that he just had to play through it,” Kern said. “He really turned it on in the fourth. He got the ball, he demanded it and went up strong.”
Mid-Prairie had a final chance to tie but a contested 3-pointer from Harmsen was well off the mark at the horn.
Harmsen had 13 points to go with 16 points and 10 rebounds from Rath.
Thomas Gould had nine points and Simon Palmer and Arnaman each had six for West Branch.
“We know that we are going to have a target on our back but after last year we realized how much better we could be and how good we could be,” Palmer said. “We are improving but I think we can always be better and are going to keep working hard to be at our best.”
West Branch 8 10 6 20 – 44
Mid-Prairie 4 12 17 8 – 41
West Branch (44) – Peyton Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Holden Arnaman 2-6 0-0 6, Brady Knoop 1-2 0-0 2, Thomas Gould 3-8 3-5 9, Gavin Hierseman 1-10 0-1 2, Jeff Bowie 8-13 3-4 19, Simon Palmer 3-7 0-0 6, Totals 18-47 6-10 44.
Mid-Prairie (41) – Will Cavanagh 2-4 0-0 6, Lucas Boyse 0-3 0-0 0, Alex Bean 0-4 0-0 0, Jackson Pennington 0-2 0-0 0, Carter Harmsen 3-13 7-9 13, Ethan Kos 3-5 0-0 6, Aidan Rath 8-9 0-0 16, Totals 16-40 7-9 41.
3-point field goals – WB 2-15 (Miller 0-1, Arnaman 2-4, Knoop 0-1, Gould 0-1, Hierseman 0-6, Bowie 0-1, Palmer 0-1), M-P 2-15 (Cavanagh 2-4, Boyse 0-2, Bean 0-3, Pennington 0-2, Harmsen 0-4). Rebounds – WB 30 (Bowie 8), M-P 28 (Rath 10). Turnovers – WB 8, M-P 12. Total fouls – WB 10, M-P 13. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.