By Michael Wendlandt
IOLA - For the third consecutive season, the Iola-Scandinavia Thunderbirds are on their way to sectionals, outlasting a gutsy comeback attempt from the Auburndale Eagles on Saturday night, 67-55, in a WIAA Division 4 boys basketball regional final at Iola-Scandinavia High School.
The Thunderbirds were led by senior forward Brye Hardel, who scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half and pulled down seven rebounds in the effort.
“I felt unstoppable for a minute there in the first half,” Hardel said. “My teammates did a great job getting me open, creating shots for me, which is big with me being a post guy.”
With the higher seeded Iola-Scandinavia receiving the opening inbound, both teams took a possession to feel each other out before Hardel got the scoring started with a layup, his first of seven makes from the lane.
Early on, Auburndale was able to keep pace with their full-court trapping defense before Iola found a way to break it open with back-to-back 3-pointers from junior Parker Prahl as part of a 9-0 Thunderbirds’ run, one of three such runs in the first half.
Midway through the first, Auburndale was able to claw its way back to within six with the help of Terrance Roberson's second three-pointer, before the Thunderbirds found a way to break the press consistently and find passing lanes from the wing to the block and get some layups to key another run, this time 10-0. The first half, from then on, was all Iola-Scandinavia as it controlled the interior and did not let Auburndale get any second chance opportunities and went into the half with a 41-19 lead.
The second half started strong for Auburndale as it got a little more aggressive with its press, forcing a couple of turnovers and chipping away the lead throughout the half, keyed by sophomore Alex Willfahrt, who was able to get to the basket, and free throw line, time and again. He ended the night with 13 free throw attempts, as well as two blocked shots.
With the physical play starting to ramp up, both teams got into the bonus midway through the half and free throws started to become the difference in the game. Auburndale had a 9-0 run to get to within seven late before Iola-Scandinavia started to convert its free. Iola's final 14 points all came at the line as the Thunderbirds held off the comeback attempt to advance to sectionals. For head coach Sam Bertsch, it is a testament to his teams experience in multiple sports playing deep into the playoffs.
“It’s important to remember that not just in basketball, but in baseball and football, we have a lot of guys that come from a school that has played a lot of games in the postseason and knows how to play in the postseason,” Bertsch said.
Beyond Hardel, Prahl ended up with 18 points for Iola-Scandinavia, while senior Marcus Jaworski chipped in with 12. For Auburndale, Roberson poured in 18 points, and Willfahrt and senior Hunter Wright each had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Iola-Scandinavia held the edge as a team, pulling down 36 rebounds to Auburndale’s 25. From the line, Auburndale hit 15 of its 24 attempts, while Iola-Scandinavia made 17 of 30. Auburndale ends their season at 16-6, while Iola-Scandinavia moves to 14-3.
Iola-Scandinavia will play a sectional semifinal at Blair-Taylor at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Thunderbirds 67, Eagles 55
Auburndale 19 36 - 55
Iola-Scandinavia 41 26 - 67
AUBURNDALE (55): Terrance Roberson 6-12 2-3 18, Alex Willfahrt 2-8 7-13 11, Hunter Wright 4-15 2-2 11, Schuyler Gilhausen 3-10 2-4 9, Cade Krings 1-3 0-0 2, Carl Lundgren 1-2 0-0 2, Mason White Eagle 0-1 2-2 2. FG: 17-51. FT: 15-24. 3-pointers: 6-33 (Roberson 4-10, Gilhausen 1-8, Wright 1-9, Krings 0-2, Willfahrt 0-4). Rebounds: 21 (Wright 7, Willfahrt 7). Fouls: 25. Fouled out: Lundgren. Record: 16-6.
IOLA-SCANDINAVIA (67): Complete statistics not reported. Record: 14-3.