By Marianne Gasaway
Clear Lake saw its chance for a State title and undefeated season slip away in the waning moments of the Class 3A semi-finals played Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Top-seeded Norwalk (23-4) trailed for most of the second half, but took the lead back for good with 1:19 remaining on a Tyler Endres layup. The Lions couldn’t recover.
Norwalk exploded for 21 fourth quarter points to secure a 61-54 win.
“I am proud of our effort. We competed at the highest level,” said Clear Lake Coach Jeremey Ainley. “We gave ourselves a chance and with a couple of different bounces at the end we might have been playing in the late game on Friday.”
Clear Lake held the high-powered Warriors to just 33 percent shooting and got 20 points from Drew Enke, but couldn’t keep the pressure on and managed just seven points in the final quarter.
The Lions let the Warriors know they had come to play, jumping out to a 5-1 lead on an Enke basket and three from Tate Storbeck. Norwalk evened the score three-minutes in the game and the teams were often deadlocked before Enke connected on a floater for a 14-11 lead in the final minute. The Warriors closed the gap to 14-13 in the final seconds of the period.
The teams were knotted again, 21-21, midway through the second quarter. The Warriors jumped ahead by five, 26-21, with three-minutes to play before half, but a basket and free throw from Andrew Formanek and Jaylen DeVries’ two free throws had the Lions back in business at 26-26. Formanek sent the Lions into the locker room with momentum after blocking a last second shot and quickly grabbing the ball after a second block by teammate Kody Kearns.
The teams went into the break at 31-31.
After trailing early in the third, the Lions took the lead on a Carson Toebe three-pointer, 40-37. They pushed the margin to eight on a series of plays which had the Lion crowd roaring. Enke lobbed the ball inside to DeVries for a quick bucket, 42-37. The next time down the floor Enke did the damage himself, pulling up for a bucket, 44-37. The Warriors capitalized on a foul to stop the bleeding, but Formanek kept the pressure on with a three-pointer to make the score 47-39 with 1:22 left in the third. A Warrior free throw made it 47-40 heading into the final eight-minutes.
A Warrior three-pointer quickly put them back in the game, 47-43, and gave them the boost they needed. Meanwhile, things began to unravel for the Lions. Five turnovers in a span of 2:27 helped to give Norwalk a lead with 1:19 remaining which they would never relinquish. Two more turnovers and shots just off the mark spoiled a comeback attempt.
The Warriors scored 12 points off Lion turnovers in the game. Clear Lake committed 18 turnovers in the game, compared to just five for Norwalk.
Enke was the leading scorer for the Lions. The senior finished with 20 points on 8/18 shooting. He was 4/9 from three-point range.
“We didn’t end up where we wanted to, but we will keep our heads held high,” said Enke after the ball game. “Big time players make big time plays and (Bowen) Born hit big shots against us,” he said, crediting Norwalk’s junior stand-out on his game. Born poured in 32 points to lead all scorers in the game. Norwalk’s big man, Tyler Endres, finished with eight-points and 15 rebounds.
Andrew Formanek gave the Lions a spark off the bench. The sophomore scored 13-points, had five rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Warrior defense did a good job of limited freshman sharpshooter Carson Toebe’s attempts, but he still managed to sink one of two three-point shots and finished with seven points.
Senior Tate Storbeck contributed six points and made four assists.
Jaylen DeVries added four points and was the team leader in rebounds with 10.
Jared Penning and Kody Kearns each put in two points.
“At the start of the season nobody predicted we would be here, but we came down and showed that we belong,” said Coach Ainley. “I thought the game plan we came in with worked. We knew we had great defenders. Win or lose today, we are playing at this venue on the last day of the season and that is quite an accomplishment.”
Norwalk went on to lose in the championship game to Osklaoosa, 48-44.