DES MOINES —
A classic sports tale was being written by Faith Pope Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Arena. The story had been written before — Michael Jordan has written it so many times he could claim copyright status — by many different authors, some well-known, others obscure; and now it was Pope’s turn.
He was going to be the star player who willed his team to a victory by elevating his game to a whole nother level at the moment his team needed him most. But in the game’s final minutes, the tale, which seemed destined to end in a Mount Pleasant victory, sharply diverted from the script — the cosmos was disrupted — and left Pope and his Mount Pleasant teammates to absorb a heartbreaking 54-49 overtime loss to Waverly-Shell Rock in the Class 3A quarterfinals.
Third-seeded Shell Rock led 36-35 going into the final quarter. The third quarter was a quiet one for Pope who, in a complete divergence from his red-hot first half, was content with distributing the ball to his teammates. The Go-Hawks took command of the game in the opening minutes of the third. Shell Rock’s Klinton Carlson, a 6-8 forward who had a game-high 22 points, grabbed a rebound, thundered down the court and finished with a finger roll that put the Go-Hawks up 32-22. But, even with Pope as a non-factor on offense, the Panthers were able to erase the 10-point deficit.
After Carlson’s basket, The Panthers went on a 13-2 run, courtesy of a couple of short and mid-range jumpers by Frank Cameron, a steal and layup by Dalton Conrad, a shot in the lane by Ryan Hanna and a few other baskets that gave the Panthers a 35-34 lead near the end of the quarter.
Dan Stensland momentarily stopped the bleeding for Shell Rock with a tough drive down the lane to end the quarter.
Carlson swooped into the lane like an imposing bird of prey and delivered a rim-rattling two-hand slam to start the fourth quarter. The dunk, however, sparked a fire in Pope that burned the Go-Hawk defense for most of the quarter. On the Panthers’ next possession, Pope tossed in a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Moments later, he sank another 3, a line drive that scorched the net; that put his team in front 40-38. Later, Pope elevated above a crowd of players huddled inside the lane and corralled a rebound and stuck it back in to extend Mount Pleasant’s lead to 44-40.
Towards the end of the game, things got interesting, and more than a little controversial. It started when a hustling Pope dove on the floor for a loose ball and appeared to have it in his possession when a Go-Hawk player attempted to wrench the ball away from him while getting a piece of Pope in the process.
The referee blew his whistle. At first it wasn’t clear what he called. Was it a jump ball? a foul? Eventually it became clear a foul had indeed been called ... a foul ... on Pope, who was now one foul shy of fouling out. Soon after the controversial call, Carlson drove down the lane against Pope and drew enough contact to get Pope whistled for his fifth foul with 1:29 left in regulation. Pope ended with a team-high 21 points, including three 3-pointers, on 9-13 shooting
In Pope’s absence, Shell Rock mounted a comeback. Carlson scored inside while drawing a foul – he missed his free throw – to pull his team within three,46-43. Less than a minute later, Drew Demuth scored on a put-back to tie it at 47 with 20 seconds left.
Both teams had a chance to steal a win in the final seconds – Mount Pleasant missed some free throws and Shell Rock got off some high-percentage shots before the buzzer sounded – but neither team was able to capitalize and the game went into overtime.
“We were in position there in regulation,” Mount Pleasant coach Paul Rundquist said. “We had some turnovers late and some missed free throws, and that’s the game of basketball.”
The Panthers couldn’t muster enough offense in overtime and the Go-Hawks prevailed.
Rundquist, however, was still proud of his team’s effort.
“We stuck to the game plan and I credit the kids for doing so,” Rundquist said. “They’re a great group of kids.”
Pope got off to a terrific start in the first quarter. First, he knocked down a pretty fade away jumper. Then he managed to spin by his opponent and stick it in off the glass. Moments later, Pope drilled a 3-pointer that upped his team’s lead to 9-4.
“The first couple of shots just put me on and set the tone,” Pope said.
The senior ended the half with 12 points — he score nine of his the Panthers first 11 points —, a number that probably would have been larger if hadn’t picked up his second foul with about three minutes left in the first quarter.
After Pope’s second foul rendered him some time on the bench, Shell Rock went on an 8-0 run that was spearheaded by Carlson’s strong play inside. The rally gave Shell Rock a 17-14 lead and provided the impetus for Pope’s return to the court. But, constrained by two fouls, Pope couldn’t do much to stop Carlson, who took full advantage of Pope’s cautious defense by taking it right at him for a couple of buckets.
“We wanted to be aggressive and get him [Pope] in foul trouble,” Carlson said. “We really wanted to attack, especially on Pope and hope he didn’t block our shots.”
Carlson, who scored 15 first half points, beat a Mount Pleasant defender off the dribble and sank a jumper to give his team a 26-22 lead at the half.
Mount Pleasant finished the year at 19-6. The Go-Hawks (21-4) will play seventh-seed Assumption Davenport in the semifinals Thursday in Des Moines.
Waverly-Shell Rock 54, Mount Pleasant 49
Moun 14 8 13 12 2 — 49
Wave 11 15 10 11 7 — 54
Mount Pleasant (49) — Logan Mulford 7, Cameron Frank 8, Ryan Hanna 9, Faith Pope 21, Connor Shull 2, Dalton Conrad 2. Totals 21-37 FG 3-8 FT 49.
3-point goals — 4-11 (Pope 3). Fouled out — Pope. Rebounds — 18 (Pope 5). Assists — 7 (Conrad 3). Steals — 7 (Pope 3). Blocks — 3 (Pope 2). Total fouls — 16. Turnovers — 9.
Waverly-Shell Rock (54) — Dan Stensland 9, Klinton Carlson 22, Jake Velky 8, Drew Demuth 4, Sean Westendorf 4, Tanner Hanks 5, Colin Wiltse 2. Totals 23-45 FG 7-14 FT 54.
3-point goals — 1-6 (Hanks 1). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — 28 (Carlson 7). Assists — 9 (Carlson 3). Steals — 5 (Velky 2). Blocks — 3 (Pope 2). Total fouls — 12. Turnovers — 28.