Wells Fargo Bound: North Union Boys Basketball Clinches First State Berth

by Tyler Lance
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For the first time in program history, the North Union Warriors boys basketball team is heading to the state tournament, clinching a berth with a 58-51 overtime win against the South O’Brien Wolverines in the class 1A – substate 1 final from Spencer High School on Saturday night.

The Warriors found themselves on the brink of elimination, down 46-44 with 18 seconds left in regulation and the ball in their possession, after David Bottjen drilled the go ahead three for South O’Brien with 1:50 remaining in the fourth.  With time running down, Preston Guerdet got off a three point look that was off target, but Aiden Lofstrom was there for the rebound and game tying putback with 6.8 seconds left.  A clean look at a three on the other end from the left corner by Jaden Kreber was off the mark, and the game continued to overtime.

In the overtime period, North Union drew first blood on a Grady Madden three, then after South O’Brien had cut the lead to one, another three, this one by Guerdet, put North Union up four.  After the Guerdet three, Kyan Jones forced a turnover in the backcourt, which was followed by a Danyal Fothergill foul line jumper to extend the margin to six. 

The North Union defense continued to put the clamps on, as Fothergill blocked a three point attempt with 42 seconds left.  A few possessions later with North Union’s lead at 58-51 and 14 seconds remaining, Fothergill stole a pass to ice the game and send North Union to state. 

The Warriors outscored the Wolverines 12-5 in the overtime period on the heels of a quiet fourth quarter offensively. After leading 42-36 heading into the fourth, the Warriors saw the lead disappear, as South O’Brien posted a 10-4 scoring advantage in the fourth to send the game to overtime. North Union had led by as many as eight in the final moments of the third before South O’Brien rallied.

A Willie Conley putback off a missed three on the first possession of the fourth started the Wolverine rally. Derek Paulson drew a foul on the next Wolverine possession, splitting his free throws to trim the Warrior lead to three, then a steal and a transition layup on the ensuing North Union possession by Paulson made the score 42-41 a mere 1:02 into the fourth quarter.

Fothergill grabbed some momentum back for North Union, jumping a pass near half court and going in for an uncontested layup with 6:18 remaining in the fourth, giving North Union a 44-41 lead. The Warriors would not score again for six minutes until Lofstrom’s game-tying putback.

North Union began to gain some brief separation in the final two minutes of the third quarter. With the Warriors up by two, Madden knocked down his first three pointer of the night, giving the Warriors a 39-34 advantage with 1:46 left in the third. On the ensuing North Union possession, Drew Henderson swished a three to give the Warriors their largest lead of the night.

Aiden Lofstrom finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds, Preston Guerdet scored 13, and Danyal Fothergill had 8 points with 6 steals.  Derek Paulsen scored 18 in the loss for South O’Brien, while Willie Conley added 11. The Wolverines end the season with a record of 21-4.

North Union is now 22-3, and will get a rubber match against Lake Mills at state after the teams split their two regular season matchups. Lake Mills picked up a 41-38 win in their substate final matchup against Remsen St. Mary’s on Saturday night. North Union is the #6 seed, while Lake Mills enters state with the #3 seed. The winner between Lake Mills and North Union faces the winner of #2 Marquette Catholic and #7 Gladbrook-Reinbeck in the semifinal round on Wednesday, March 6th.

On the other side of the boys class 1A bracket, #1 North Linn matches up with #8 Woodbine at 10:30am on March 4th, and #4 Winfield-Mt. Union meets #5 Lynville-Sully at 12:15.

The North Union vs. Lake Mills matchup tips off at 3:45 on Monday, March 4th, and the game will be carried live on KLGA 92.7 FM and KLGZ 98.5 FM/AM 1600.

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