Late North Union Rally Comes Up Short as Lake Mills Advances to State Semifinals

by Tyler Lance
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A historic boys basketball season for the North Union Warriors is over after a late rally by the sixth-seeded Warriors came up short against the third-seeded Lake Mills Bulldogs during a 58-50 loss Monday afternoon from Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines in the class 1A state quarterfinal round.

A layup by Lake Mills junior Aiden Stensrud on the Bulldogs’ first offensive possession of the fourth quarter gave Lake Mills a 49-34 lead, with the 15 point margin marking the largest lead of the game. With their backs against the wall, the Warriors embarked on a 14-0 scoring run between the 7:01 and 2:25 marks of the fourth quarter, trying to steal victory from the jaws of defeat.

Junior Grady Madden got the scoring started with a three point ball, as the Warrior shooting began to loosen up after that, with senior Kody Irmiter and senior Preston Guerdet also converting three point tries during the run. The Warriors substantially turned up the defensive pressure, forcing six Lake Mills turnovers during the run, as seniors Kyan Jones and Danyal Fothergill turned a pair of steals into layups. In the five minutes and 14 seconds between Lake Mills scores, the Bulldogs only attempted two field goals and only made one trip to the free throw line, as the Warrior press led to consistent turnovers.

North Union Head Coach Alex Fisher felt the run was another example of a team that never waves the white flag.

A veteran Lake Mills team, making its fourth state appearance in the past five seasons and sixth in program history, found a way to right the ship in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. The North Union scoring run came to an end at the 1:47 mark of the fourth, as two offensive rebounds led to a Stensrud putback, giving Lake Mills a 51-48 lead. After a missed layup by the Warriors on their ensuing possession, Lake Mills junior Jackson Gaul buried two clutch free throws with 1:09 left, coming on the heels of two misses on his previous trip to the line, as Lake Mills made the score 53-48.

Lake Mills Head Coach Kyle Menke felt that his team looked tentative during the North Union rally, but made a couple of big plays down the stretch to get momentum back.

Following the Gaul free throws, Lake Mills continued to take advantage of being in the bonus, as Guerdet missed a jumper, then would be called for an intentional foul, giving the Bulldogs two free throws and possession, as senior Lance Helming converted two from the foul line. Lake Mills would then burn 12 seconds off the clock before a foul put senior Logan Bacon at the line. Although Bacon missed both free throws, the Warriors were unable to overcome the lack of time remaining, as a layup by senior Aiden Lofstrom on the next possession marked the final points of the game for the Warriors.

In the third matchup of the season between Top of Iowa West conference foes, North Union never led at any point, trying to rally all afternoon after falling behind 14-2 to start the game, as the Warriors made just one out of their first 11 field goal attempts before a Madden three with 1:27 left in the first stopped the bleeding.

Fisher says Lake Mills surprised the Warriors with their early defensive scheme.

Lofstrom felt the experience of Lake Mills compared to a Warrior team making their first state appearance contributed to the early Bulldog advantage.

Much like later in the fourth quarter, North Union rallied after their slow initial start. The Warriors made nine of their next 14 field goal attempts after starting the game 1/11 from the field. Guerdet knocked down two second quarter threes, as the Warriors got as close as 19-18 in the second period, but Lake Mills would answer with thee point shots of their own. After making just one three pointer the entire season prior to Monday’s game, Bacon hit two three pointers within a two minute stretch of the second quarter, and senior Eli Menke added another three, as Lake Mills went up 34-25 heading into intermission, shooting 6/13 from three point range.

Kyle Menke told Bacon all throughout the week that he was ready to knock down some big shots.

Lake Mills continued to extend their lead in the second half, outscoring North Union 13-9 in the third quarter before eventually going up by 15 points to start the fourth.

Kyle Menke credited his team for being able to withstand two big North Union runs.

Lake Mills enjoyed large advantages in rebounding and free throw attempts. The Bulldogs outrebounded the Warriors 43-23, including 11-5 on the offensive glass, and attempted 24 free throws to North Union’s six, as the Bulldogs were 12/24 from the charity stripe and the Warriors were 3/6.

Stensrud led the way with a double double of 11 points and 15 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass. Helming chipped in 15 points and 8 boards, while Eli Menke totaled 10 points. Averaging 3.5 points per game prior to state, Bacon finished with 13 points for Lake Mills.

North Union amassed a 17-6 turnover advantage but had streaky shooting all afternoon, finishing at 35.7% from the field and 7/24 on threes. Lake Mills would shoot 47.6% on field goals and 6/17 on 3s, as North Union limited Lake Mills to just four three point tries in the second half with zero makes.

Aiden Lofstrom led North Union with 13 points, Preston Guerdet scored 11, and Danyal Fothergill, Kody Irmiter, and Grady Madden scored 7 apiece.

North Union graduates six seniors, including all five members of their starting lineup. Fisher says this was a special group in program history.

Guerdet says it has been a special run for the North Union seniors.

North Union finishes the season with a record of 22-4, a program record for wins in a season. Fisher says this team has made all of the younger Warriors excited to play basketball.

Lake Mills is now 25-1, and faces #2 seeded Marquette Catholic on Wednesday night in the semifinals. The Bulldogs have won two out of three matchups against North Union this season, winning the final two after the Warriors snapped Lake Mills’ 54 game conference win streak in their December meeting. All three matchups this season between the two teams were decided by single digits.

After steamrolling the competition throughout most of the season, to the tune of an average margin of victory of 30.4 points, Lake Mills has now won three postseason games in a row by single digit margins to advance to the class 1A semifinals. The semifinal berth marks the second in program history for the Bulldogs, who were defeated in the 2022 semis by Grand View Christian. Wednesday night’s game tips off at 7:15 from Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

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