Winfield-Mt. Union, IA- In a packed house at the Wolves Den, fans were gifted a rare postseason doubleheader between two teams that had gotten to know one another rather well. The golden opportunity came about how most things come about in the Midwest during the winter: a snowstorm had postponed the boys’ game between Winfield-Mt. Union and Burlington Notre Dame on Thursday. The only issue was the girls’ team for the Wolves were also supposed to play at home on Friday. However, luck would shine down upon Southeastern Iowa as the girls were also supposed to battle against Burlington Notre Dame, so the doubleheader was set.
Game one tip-offed at 6 pm, but before we get into the game it’s good to know the backstory. Winfield-Mt. Union came into the matchup with first year head coach and WMU alumnus, Mendy McCreight, at 20-1 with their lone loss coming against 12th ranked Mediapolis of Class 2A. The Wolves have not made it to state since 1998 when McCreight was playing for the team. To add some fuel to the fire, the Wolves’ postseason runs the last three years have been quashed by Burlington Notre Dame by an average of 36 points with the last two years ending in the same spot, the semifinals.
Now, Burlington Notre Dame has dominated the Southeastern Iowa scene having made it to the Regional Championship the last three years, including a trip to the state quarterfinal last year where the fell to the eventual state champion Bishop Garrigan. Both teams were ranked throughout the year with the Wolves finishing ranked 8th, while the Nikes collected an 18-6 record on the season after falling out of the top 15 midway through the season due to a 1-4 slump.
The game started as if the status quo would be kept, as the Nikes won the tip and had an open lay-up to start the game. However, things played out a different way last night as the ball danced around the rim and fell out. Keetyn Townsley knocked down a three to get the scoring started as the Wolves rattled off a 7-0 run. Burlington Notre Dame would shake off the initial shock as the Nikes hit three three-pointer of their own in the first half, but all the momentum would go the way of the Wolves after Anna Anderson nailed a high-arcing three at the buzzer to give Winfield-Mt. Union a 30-21 lead at halftime.
But, as Coach McCreight would say at the end of the game, “…they’re a good second half team.” Burlington Notre Dame would outscore the Wolves 14 to 10 in the third quarter to smack the lead down to 40-35. Lauren Krieger hit four three-pointers in the second half and Gabby Deery would get her work done in the paint as she put up 12 points in the second half to keep the Nikes close. However, Melina Oepping would score 10 points of her own along with Anderson and Bradie Buffington going 6 of 8 from the free throw line. Winfield-Mt. Union never trailed as they won 57-54 to move on to play North Mahaska in the Class 1A Region 8 Regional Championship. Oepping would finish with 20 points in the game, while the Nikes were led by Krieger’s 20 points, as she hit five three-pointers in the contest.
Coach McCreight was overjoyed when she talked about her team’s effort,
“We’re excited, we believed, we went and achieved, and that’s what we did we got the job done.”
Game two—the boys’ game—had a high standard to meet, as the winner already knew New London had defeated WACO to move on to the district 7 semifinals. The Wolves and the Nikes had already met two weeks ago in the Southeastern Iowa Super Conference Shootout, when the Wolves would squeak by with the 53-52 victory. Winfield-Mt. Union was trying to make it back to state since their state championship loss to Rock Valley, 52-51, back in 1996, and Burlington Notre Dame was looking to make it back to the dance for the first time since 2009, as both teams lost to Danville last year in the playoffs.
Burlington Notre Dame started the game hot as the Nikes led 14-8 at the end of the first quarter. However, the Wolves would not go away easy as Jake Edwards hit two three-pointers in the second quarter leading to a Wolves one point lead, 23-22, going into halftime. The third quarter became the Cam Buffington show as the junior could not miss as he scored 18 of his 27 points in the one quarter. Buffington, alone, outscored the Nikes 18 to 14 in the quarter. The defense for the Wolves would hang on despite Spencer Brent’s three three-pointers in the second half, as Carter Loyd would hit 5 of his 6 free throws late in the game to give Winfield-Mt. Union the 63-49 win.
Klay Edwards, a member of the Wolves when they went to the state tournament three time in the 1990s that included a 2nd place finish, a 3rd place finish, and a 4th place finish, the head coach for Winfield-Mt. Union reflected how evenly match the two teams are,
“Fantastic effort really, Notre Dame is a great team, and we match up with each other so well. We can play each other ten times and it would probably come out 5 to 5. We’ve been fortunate to get the last two here. So, just really proud of our guys.”
Winfield-Mt. Union will now have to take on New London in the Substate 4 semifinal. Coach Edwards knows his team will have their hands full, but there’s one player he knows they will have to contain,
“Blaise Porter will be topic number 1…you’re going to have to guard everyone and try to contain the two big dogs [Blaise Porter and Cade Benjamin] , so we are going to have our hands full.”
The Winfield-Mt. Union boys’ team will play February 21st at Mediapolis High School at 7 pm and the girls’ team will play February 22nd at Williamsburg High School at 7 pm.