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Mustangs finish as runners-up

DES MOINES, Iowa -- With the score tied nine times and the lead changing 13 times Friday night, it was the NUH, Cedar Falls Panthers that came away with the victory over George-Little Rock, and the class 1A state championship.

Mack Vande Kamp scored a game-high 21 points to lead G-LR, but it wasn't enough in the Mustangs' 49-44 loss in the title game of the Iowa boys' state basketball tournament.

"I'm feeling pretty sad that the season is over," Vande Kamp said. "It's not the way you want to go out really, but we exceeded a lot of expectations that a lot of people had for us. I'm proud to be runner-up. There are 142 other teams that wished they could have been where we were, and that's just the way it goes sometimes."

Trailing by three points (45-42) G-LR (21-7) had an opportunity in the closing minute to tie the game, but Vande Kamp's trey was off the mark, as NUH hit a pair of free throws to seal the victory.

"Obviously it's extremely disappointing," G-LR head coach Ben Gerleman said. "You never want to finish your season losing, but I can't fault my kids. They did everything we asked them to do. You have to give NU High a lot of credit, they made the plays they needed to make when they needed to make them. The ball just didn't go our way in the end, and we'll live with it, but our kids need to be proud of what they accomplished."

While NUH had cruised through the first two rounds with easy victories over Bedford and H-L-V, Victor, first year head coach Paul Elser knew a championship was no easy task.

"George-Little Rock, give them credit, they have a really good team," Elser said. "They've been down here and have a little history at state, so they weren't going to hand it to us. Those first two games I thought we took advantage of the other teams' weaknesses, but George-Little Rock is a solid team. The game went right down to the end like it should have."

With the game a battle the whole way, the biggest lead of the night came at the beginning of the second half.

After the teams played to a 27-27 tie at halftime, Vande Kamp started the second half with a trey in the first 20 seconds, and 40 seconds later, Vande Kamp connected from the same spot on the floor - giving the Mustangs a 33-27 lead.

"I was just feeling it kind of, and they left me open," Vande Kamp said. "They were guarding me, but I was feeling it in rhythm, and I just jacked it, and if it goes in, it goes in. But I was feeling it, so it went in."

Following the two made treys, Elser took a timeout to settle his team and stop the Mustangs' momentum.

"I have a feeling the game changed for us when (Vande Kamp) came out and hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and I took my timeout," Elser said.

"The discussion in my timeout with some of the players was that they're not going to score again. That was the mentality, and it made them mad that they let them do that. To me, that was the turning point. We were down six points, and I could just see the change on the floor."

Elser's talk in the timeout proved to be true, as G-LR did not score in the final 7:03 of the third quarter.

However, a layup from Brad Denning (seven points) and a shot from Eddie Diemer (nine points) were the only points the Panthers would score in the third quarter, as G-LR held a slim 33-31 lead heading into the final quarter of play.

"When we got off to the good start in the second half and when Mack hit those two shots, I was thinking that this is going to be really good, because it's going to open up our posts," Gerleman said. "But we just didn't execute as well as we needed to and forced a couple of shots. Overall, it was just a very good high school basketball game. Unfortunately, we just came up a little short."

As offensively slow as the third quarter was, the teams started on fire with three consecutive treys in the fourth quarter. After Travis Ellerbroek (15 points) hit a trey for NUH, Vande Kamp responded with a trey to give the Mustangs a two-point lead.

"I just wanted to do everything I could do," Vande Kamp said. "Obviously, I tried my hardest, but we came up a little short. I just wanted to do what I could do to help the team out and get us in the best position I could to win. We were in a good position to win at the end, but we just couldn't finish."

Denning came back and hit another trey for the Panthers, as the teams combined for 17 points in the first 2:31 -- leaving NUH with a 41-40 lead.

After a three-minute scoreless drought, Tyler Starr (eight points, nine rebounds) hit a jumper to give the Mustangs their last lead of the night.

Travis Ellerbroek hit a trey on the Panther's next possession to give NUH a 44-42 lead with 2:13 remaining.

"We took care of the ball down the stretch," Elser said. "We hit our free throws, all but one, and we were really strong with the ball and not giving it up and giving turnovers in the last minute and a half."

After Diemer hit a pair of free throws to push the lead to four points, Fiedler hit a jumper to cut the lead back to just two, 46-44.

Nick Ellerbroek (eight points, seven rebounds) connected on one-of-two foul shots with 40 seconds remaining to give G-LR a chance.

However, Vande Kamp's shot was no good, as NUH went on for the 49-44 victory.

"It's hard to take, but they are a good team, and I give them props for that," Fiedler said. "It was a pretty evenly matched game, and it could have gone either way. They made a big shot, and that helped propel them to a win."

For their efforts throughout the entire week, G-LR's Starr and Fiedler were named to the all-tournament team.

"It's cool, but I wish I would have gotten on it with us winning a championship," Fiedler said. "I'm glad I'm on it; it's an honor to be on it. There are a lot of good players on it, and I'll take it."

The Panthers started with an early 8-4 lead after a trey from Nick Ellerbroek, but a trey from Vande Kamp later in the quarter gave the Mustangs a 9-8 lead. However, the teams would play evenly throughout the rest of the quarter, as the score was tied 15-all after eight minutes of play.

Neither team could gain any separation in the second quarter as the score was tied at 27-all at half before NUH finished its championship victory.

"I think we played all right," Fiedler said. "I think we could have always played better. In my mind, I know we could have won this game, but we just didn't make the plays that needed to be made. That was a big key for us."

NUH 15 12 4 18 -- 49

G-LR 15 12 6 11 -- 44

NUH (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) N. Ellerbroek 0-2-4-8, T. Ellerbroek 3-2-2-15, Denning 1-2-0-7, Miller 0-1-1-3, McKenna 1-2-0-7, Diemer 0-3-3-9. Totals 5-12-10-49.

G-LR (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Vande Kamp 5-2-2-21, Starr 0-2-4-8, Fiedler 0-4-3-11, Peters 0-2-0-4. Totals 5-10-9-44.