On Friday, the battle for supremacy in the RVC South took place in the post.
As shots from outside missed the mark, the 6-foot-5 centers led the offensive attack down the stretch. Mid-Prairie’s Aidan Rath scored 12 in the third quarter, but Jeff Bowie’s 11 points in the fourth helped West Branch escape with a 44-41 win.
Mid-Prairie led 35-24 after Rath scored the first points of the fourth quarter, but the Bears closed the game on an 18-4 run to remain unbeaten. Mid-Prairie suffered its first RVC loss and dropped to 5-2 overall.
“We felt like we were heading in the right direction and had some things figured out both on offense and defense,” Mid-Prairie coach Daren Lambert said. “We knew it was going to be a game like this. Unfortunately, there are just a couple plays here and there that we wish we could have back, and then that score would just be just a little bit different.
“A lot of things we’re learning tonight, a lot of upset guys in that locker room. But, with this team, their basketball IQ is great. They hold themselves accountable. We made a big jump after that first loss and I expect us to do the same.”
After holding West Branch to just 24 points over three quarters, an 11-point advantage felt like a sizable lead. But the Bears came up with 20 points over the final 7:16.
“We amped up the pressure a little bit with some three-quarter-court press and then got more aggressive with our zone,” West Branch coach Jason Kern said.
“We were timid there for about the first three, three and a half quarters. And finally, we were aggressive.”
The 3-point shots were not falling for either team on Friday. West Branch shot 2-15 and Mid-Prairie was 2-14 with both makes coming from Will Cavanagh.
It was Rath, the Golden Hawks’ baseball star, and Bowie, a future Hawkeye football player who took over the game in the second half.
Rath finished 8-9 from the floor to lead Mid-Prairie with 16 points and nine rebounds. Bowie was 8-13 for 19 points and eight rebounds for the Bears.
Carter Harmsen led Mid-Prairie with four assists from the high post and scored 13 points as well.
“Different guys have stepped up on different nights,” Lambert said. And that’s the thing that’s that’s made us fairly successful throughout the first games here. We’re not limited to just one style of play.
“Earlier in the week, we had to be super physical and patient. On Tuesday, we tried to turn things up and then dial it back here and there. And then tonight, it was grind it out half-court basketball.
Overall, I’m just pleased with how the guys responded at different times tonight when adversity hit.”
Ethan Kos had five rebounds and six points, including a putback to beat the third-quarter buzzer.
The Golden Hawks held West Branch to 18-47 shooting.
“(Mid-Prairie) has three or four guys that can go get some buckets, and they do a good job of attacking the rim, being patient and getting good looks,” Kern said. “And they’re very disciplined defensively.”
Kern, a 2007 graduate of Mid-Prairie, is 4-1 against the Golden Hawks with three of those wins coming by three points or less.
The Bears will travel to Wellman for the rematch on February 5, in the Golden Hawks’ penultimate regular season game.