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PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Balster leads Orabs in state quarterfinals

DES MOINES, Iowa - Sheldon point guard and assist leader Chris Balster is averaging nearly eight points per game this season, while doing the bulk of the ball-handling and playmaking for the Orabs.

Playing at Wells Fargo Arena Tuesday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the IHSAA Class 2A state boys' basketball tournament, his role changed a bit.

Balster scored nine points in the second quarter and finished with a team-high 21, leading the Orabs to a 63-57 victory over Pella Christian to the delight of a large group of Sheldon fans who had made the trip to the capital city.

The Orabs (23-3) advance to Thursday's state semifinals and a meeting with Kuemper Catholic of Carroll (17-8), which held off second-seeded Nodaway Valley, 61-54, in an earlier quarterfinal clash Tuesday.

It was just the second loss of the season for Nodaway Valley, which finished 23-2.

Sheldon will play Kuemper at 3:45 p.m. Thursday, following the 2A semifinal game between undefeated and top-ranked West Fork, Sheffield (25-0) and M-F-L, Marmac (22-3), who won quarterfinal games Monday.

Balster netted a pair of open mid-range jumps shots Tuesday, but scored the rest of his points on slashing drives to the hoop, being fouled on several of those attacks, converting a trio of three-point plays.

Balster finished 8-of-10 from the field and 5-of-6 at the line, while also dishing off four assists and claiming three defensive rebounds for the Orabs, who held leads at the end of each quarter.

Sheldon scored key baskets at the end of each of the first three periods, taking leads of 14-12, 27-26 and 43-38 at the breaks.

The Orabs opened up a 54-47 lead with 3:33 to play in the fourth quarter when James Gradert scored inside - off a Balser assist - to cap a 9-4 Sheldon run.

The Eagles, who finished 20-5, made one last run at the Orabs - twice slicing the gap to two points, 54-52 at the 2:13 mark, and later to 56-54 with 48 seconds left.

Sheldon responded with a drive by Dallas Ennema (13 points, seven blocks, four rebounds, four assists), two free throws by Ennema and game-clinching "touchdown pass" from Balster to Nathan Oostra on a press-breaker, which gave the Orabs a 61-54 advantage with just 17 seconds showing on the clock.

Balster (the quarterback) and Oostra (the wide receiver) had connected on similar long passes numerous times over the past seasons on the football field and have made the play work previously in key late-game situations on the basketball court.

Oostra (seven points, four steals) was fouled on the layup and sank the free throw, building Sheldon's lead to 61-54.

Two free throws by Balster and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Pella Christain freshman Sebastian Baugh (13 points) concluded the game's scoring.

Dykstra hits 3-pointer at

third-quarter buzzer

Earlier, Sheldon's Matt Dykstra (10 points, four rebounds) fired in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer (assist Ennema) at the third-quarter's end, which lifted the Orabs to a 43-38 lead.

At the first quarter's end it was Ennema, taking a pass from the Balster, and knocking a 3-pointer to give Sheldon a 14-12 edge.

Balster put the capper on his brilliant second quarter by appearing to be working for the final shot before changing tactics and accelerating through the lane with a burst of speed, finishing with a driving layup.

Balster's 14 first-half points were crucial to Sheldon's 27-26 lead at intermission.

Ennema scored twice early in the third quarter for the Orabs, but the Eagles - who were 8-of-23 on 3-point shots - stayed close and three times (30-29, 32-31 and 34-33) held a one-point lead.

Solo free throws each by Dykstra and Balster gave the edge back to the Orabs (35-34) and Dykstra's offensive rebound basket made the score 37-34 in favor of Sheldon with 3:20 left in the third.

Another drive by Balster increased the lead to five and the Orabs received several stellar plays on the defensive end from Tom Brown (three rebounds, one steal) as they never surrendered the lead.

Gradert, who sat most of the third quarter with three fouls, returned to start the fourth and scored Sheldon's first five points of the period.

Baskets by Dykstra (assist Ennema) and Oostra (assist Balster) increased Sheldon's lead to seven (52-45) with 4:20 to play.

Baugh scored for the Eagles before Balster's inside feed to Gradert started the action of the closing 3 ½ minutes.

Pella Christian's Riley Stursma, who made 6-of-10 shots from behind the arc, scored 22 points to finish as the game's top scorer.

Gradert finished with 11 points, six rebounds and two steals for the Orabs, who are the tournament's No. 3 seed.



PELLA-CHRISITAN (20-5): Stursma 8 0-0 22; Riggen 2 0-0 4; Van Wyk 1 0-0 3; Ver Meer 3 4-4 10; Collins 2 0-0 4; Baugh 6 0-0 13. Totals: 22 5-6 57.

SHELDON (23-3): Oostra 3 1-5 7; Balster 8 5-6 21; Ennema 5 2-2 13; Dykstra 4 1-2 10; Gardert 4 3-4 11. Totals: 24 13-21 63.

Pella-Chrisitan 12 14 12 19 -- 57

Sheldon 14 13 16 20 -- 63

3-Point Goals: Pella-Chrisitan 8 (Stursma 6, Van Wyk, Baugh); Sheldon 2 (Ennema, Dykstra). Rebounds: Pella-Chrisitan 29 (Stursma 3, Riggen, Van Wyk 3, Van Meer 10, Collins 10, Baugh); Sheldon 23 (Oostra 2, Balster 3, Ennema 4, Dykstra 4, Gradert 6, Brown 3). Total Fouls (Fouled Out): Pella-Chrisitan 14 (none); Sheldon 7 (none). Technical Fouls: None. Assists: Pella-Chrisitan 8 (Stursma, Riggen, Ver Meer 3, Baugh 3); Sheldon 10 (Oostra, Balster 4, Ennema 4, Dykstra). Steals: Pella-Chrisitan 5 (Stursma, Riggen, Collings, Baugh 2); Sheldon 8 (Oostra 4, Ennema, Gardert 2, Brown). Blocked Shots: Pella-Chrisitan 1 (Ver Meer); Sheldon 7 (Ennema). Turnovers: Pella-Chrisitan 13, Sheldon 10.