KNOXVILLE – Mount Ayr boys basketball was eliminated from postseason play Saturday night, falling in Class 1A Substate 6 action in a 64-29 final.
The win for Class 1A No. 4 Montezuma (22-2) marks its third straight trip to the state tournament, this time in convincing action. Early in the game, however, it did not look like the Braves would double up on points against the Raiders.
In the first quarter, Montezuma committed three turnovers, allowing for an opportunity for Mount Ayr to get ahead and pull away slightly.
But, the Raiders were never able to get ahead and capitalize. The turnovers by the Braves ended up getting nullified by two turnovers from the Raiders themselves, and after going a few minutes without a basket, the Braves landed a Trey Shearer three before the end of the first quarter to go ahead 13-5.
After a District final win that put the Raiders in a Substate bout with Montezuma, Mount Ayr head coach Bret Ruggles mentioned the importance of the first quarter, and how it not only will set the tone for the game but could also result in whoever led through the first eight minutes would have the better chance of winning.
Going shot-for-shot with the Braves early in the first quarter, Ruggles said chances to score and get ahead were given away, resulting in Montezuma taking the advantage in the first quarter.
“If you’re going to go shot-for-shot with them, any time you turn it over, you’ve lost a possession,” said Ruggles. “... If you have a turnover, it’s terrible. If you have an offensive rebound, there’s another possession. ... I think we gave up 10 extra possessions off offensive rebounds and steals, and you just can’t do that to the number four team in the state of Iowa and hope to survive.”
In the second quarter, Montezuma started to extend its lead. A 14-0 run by Montezuma before halftime was answered on a bucket by freshman Ryce Reynolds to make it 29-10 with 2:13 left in the first half.
Entering the break it was 32-10, Montezuma holding full control. A 15-0 run to open the second half made the score 47-10, leading to the Braves putting it in cruise control until time expired.
With Trey Shearer, the second leading scorer in the state, being a major point of emphasis in the game plan, Braves big man Eddie Burgess capitalized on a size advantage and every second-chance opportunity down low. He finished with 13 rebounds, six from the offensive glass, and 16 points.
Trey Shearer finished with 11 points. Masin Shearer scored 16.
“Their athleticism is amazing. Burgess was above the rim almost on every rebound,” said Ruggles. “I was more impressed with their athleticism and their speed. We felt like we were going to be the fast team with them, and they just took us out on that.”
Being able to match Mount Ayr’s speed took away one area they excelled at all season, getting down the floor in transition and scoring quick into possessions. With the game slowed down, the Raiders tried to work inside and under the basket to no success as the Braves locked down any opportunity.
“Their ability to guard us so close and not be fouling or giving up position,” Ruggles said on what was the difference for Montezuma defensively. “They were constantly on us. ... We were not getting around them, not getting through them, we couldn’t screen for them very well and kind of got lost in the zones a little bit. ... We just struggled, and when you struggle in substate, they can get a 20-2 run.”
With the Raiders trailing big late in the game, Ruggles subbed out his upperclassmen to give way to underclassmen. Part of the new up-and-comers was Braydon Pierson, who provided a spark for Mount Ayr.
“We’ve got some youth here, some guys we can mould,” said Ruggles. “If we get them back in the gym, back in the lab over the summer and get some games in with them to start to develop them, there’s some potential here. Ryce Reynolds is a fantastic freshman, I really like Braydon Pierson, Cody Larson and Jaixen are back. We’ve just got to find that five, six and seven.”
Leading in scoring for underclassmen was Pierson with five points. Frost finished with three points while Reynolds and Riley Stark each had two points.
Seniors Erik Trujillo, Payton Weehler, Riley Mauldin, Rhett Larson and Briar Knapp each donned a Raider basketball uniform for the final time Saturday.
Ruggles made mention of Weehler, who was his ball boy at one point, Trujillo’s ability to break through to varsity and a handful of other senior players whose presence was key for this season.
“The hardest part is the seniors,” said Ruggles. “Payton is going to be the one we talk about the most, ... it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to him. Erik Trujillo spent a whole year in JV last year not quite able to crack that lineup, ... to have him do what he did tonight and have that season is impressive. I’ve been very happy with Rhett Larson, Riley Mauldin, Briar Knapp. All those seniors have given us a lot.”
Trujillo led the team with 11 points. Weehler scored four points.
After making a Substate final a year ago with a nine-man senior class, the Raiders were not expected to be a District champion and Substate finalist again.
But, with the help of the seniors, the Raiders made it back for the second straight year.
“This was not supposed to happen. We were not supposed to be here tonight,” said Ruggles. “Those five seniors got us here. ... Second day of practice I laid into them about how we are not going to lower this bar of expectations. I don’t care if we graduated nine seniors (last year), I am not lowering this bar. Those seniors really took that to heart.”
The Raiders close the season with a record of 19-5, finishing second in the Pride of Iowa behind state-qualifying Martensdale-St Marys. It is the fourth consecutive season with the Raiders winning at least 18 games.
Montezuma 64, Mount Ayr 29
MOUNT AYR (29) — (FG FT PTS) Totals — 12 1-2 29. Erik Trujillo 4 0-0 11, Braydon Pierson 2 0-0 5, Payton Weehler 2 0-0 4, Jaixen Frost 1 1-2 3, Riley Mauldin 1 0-0 2, Riley Stark 1 0-0 2, Ryce Reynolds 1 0-0 2. 3-point goals — 4 (Trujillo 3). Team fouls — 5. Fouled out — none.
MONTEZUMA (64) — (FG FT PTS) Totals — 26 4-5 64. Masin Shearer 6 2-2 16, Eddie Burgess 8 0-0 16, Cole Watts 5 1-1 13, Trey Shearer 4 0-0 11, Cam Johnson 1 1-2 3, Gavin Strong 1 0-0 3, Owen Cook 1 0-0 2. 3-point goals — 8 (Trey Shearer 3). Team fouls — 6. Fouled out — None.