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PREP BOYS' BASKETBALL: Van Schepen's block preserves victory

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Southwest Christian's Rob Van Hofwegen (left) shoots over Westbrook-Walnut Grove's Mitchell Comnick during Saturday afternoon's Section 3A South playoff game in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- With Southwest Christian clinging to a three-point lead (60-57) Saturday afternoon -- with 16 seconds left in the game -- the rallying Chargers from Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School had the basketball with a chance to tie the score in a highly-competitive Section 3A South boys' basketball quarterfinal tournament game.

The Chargers set several screens and worked the ball to high-scoring junior guard Mason Comnick in the left corner.

Comnick had been on fire all game, scoring 12 points in the first half and then ripping the nets for 27 more after intermission.

It seemed fitting that he should get the ball for the last shot.

The execution of the play by the Chargers was good and the pass to an open Comnick was on target.

But as the six-footer released the ball, Southwest Christian senior forward Tyler Van Schepen (6-5) leaped in the air and blocked the shot.

The buzzer sounded, and the Eagles had earned a three-point victory and advancement to the tournament's semifinals.

"We were switching on the screens," explained Van Schepen. "He (Comnick) still got open, but I got there in time and I just jumped straight up and blocked it (the ball) with my right arm."

The play was the capper to an exciting contest that had several lead changes in the first half and featured scoring bursts by both teams in the second half.

With the win, the fifth-seeded Eagles (16-9) advance to play top-seeded and two-time defending Class A state champion Ellsworth. The Panthers defeated Fulda (91-62) in Saturday's first game.

The season ends for the fourth-seeded Chargers (18-7), who put together a 10-game winning streak to start the season and entered Saturday's game on a seven-game win streak.

"We had a great comeback that just fell short," W-WG head coach Derrick Jenniges said after talking to his team. "We were up 11-6 early in the game, but never were able to extend that lead. Then after falling behind, we never did get the lead back."

Comnick, who finished with 39 points (13-of-22 from the field and 8-of-9 at the line), converted a three-point play with 6:57 to play in the first half that gave the Chargers a 19-15 lead.

W-WG had earlier led by five, 11-6, at the 12:36 mark following a steal and basket by junior guard Jon LeBoutillier. Two quick baskets by senior guard Josh Merrick -- the section's Triple A award winner -- had helped the Chargers get out of the gate quickly.

But the Eagles stayed close throughout the first 12 minutes and then put together a strong surge to finish the first half.

Starting with a 3-pointer by senior forward Nic Pfeifle, followed by a jumper in the lane by freshman Zach Huisken, the Eagles took a 20-19 lead with 5:12 left.

Huisken, who stands 6-foot-8, added a free throw before senior forward Rob Van Hofwegen (14 points, eight rebounds, three steals) connected on a 3-pointer, lifting SWC to a 24-19 lead with 3:33 to play.

Thirty-five seconds later, Van Hofwegen sank another trey, capping a 9-0 Eagle run and giving his team a 27-19 edge.

The Chargers had gone nearly four minutes -- from 6:37 to 2:58 -- without scoring.

Six players scored for the Eagles in the first half, as SWC took a 30-22 lead into intermission.

Comnick opened the second half scoring, trimming the lead to six.

But after Huisken sank a pair of free throws, the Eagles executed a nifty fastbreak play from Van Hofwegen to junior guard Corey Vis to Van Schepen to go up by 10 points, 34-24, just over a minute into the second half.

The lead stayed between eight and 11 points over the next four minutes, before the Chargers -- behind the spectacular shooting of Comnick -- began to close the gap.

Comnick delivered twice (a 3-pointer and a driving pull-up jumper) in a span of 14 seconds to trim the lead to 38-35.

With 12:47 to play, the Chargers came within one after Comnick and Merrick executed a dandy double team and Merrick came up with the ball. His pass to Comnick for the lay-up made the score 38-37.

Huisken (19 points, seven rebounds, three blocks) scored for SWC, and Merrick scored his second putback bucket of the game, bringing W-WG back to within one again, 40-39, with just 12 minutes left.

Baskets by Van Hofwegen and junior guard Derek Tinklenberg (15 points, two steals) increased the Eagle lead to 44-39.

A long 3-pointer by LeBoutillier made it 44-42, but Tinklenberg scored for the Eagles, pushing the SWC lead back to four.

A rebound basket by W-WG's Derek Eichner made it a two-point game again, 46-44, with 7:27 to play.

Four points by Huisken offset a pair of free throws by Comnick and the lead was 50-46 at the 5:33 mark.

Tinklenberg cleared himself for a jumpshot and Van Schepen (three assists, one block) scored on a left-side drive, increasing the advantage to 54-46 with 3:58 left.

Comnick answered with a pair of 3-pointers, which was offset by another basket by Huisken, leaving the Chargers down, 56-52, with 2:38 left.

Van Hofwegen fed Huisken for another hoop, but again Comnick connected on a 3-pointer and it was 58-55 with 2:06 to play.

The Eagles were called for a 10-second violation, but the Chargers were unable to score.

Tinklenberg made a free throw with 1:02 left, making it a four-point game (59-55).

Comnick sank a pair of free throws with 28 seconds left, and 12 seconds later, Tinklenberg made another free throw, completing the game's scoring.

Jared Mouw claimed nine rebounds for the Eagles, and W-WG's Jace Jarmer, who blocked six shots in the first half, had seven rebounds and four steals.

"Our seniors came through today," said SWC head coach Jamie Pap. "They followed the game plan and stepped it up at game's end."

SW Christian 30 30 -- 60

W-WG 22 35 -- 57

SW Christian (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Tinklenberg 1-5-2-15, Van Schepen 0-2-1-5, Van Hofwegen 2-4-0-14, Pfeifle 1-1-0-5, Huisken 0-8-3-19, Mouw 0-1-0-2. Totals 4-21-6-60.

W-WG (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Comnick 5-8-8-39, Jarmer 0-0-2-2, LeBoutillier 2-1-0-8, Merrick 0-3-0-6, Eichner 0-1-0-2. Totals 7-13-10-57.

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