WAPELLO — At 6-foot-7, Wapello’s Keaton Mitchell had a distinct height advantage in Friday’s Southeast Iowa Super Conference North Division contest against visiting Iowa Mennonite School.
And the Indians’ center put it to good use, grabbing several key offensive rebounds during a third-quarter run that saw Wapello extend its lead from six points at halftime to 20 late in the period. The Indians went on to win 63-42, snatching first place in the North Division standings.
“(Coach Ken Spielbauer) told us before the game he wanted us to get a lot of boards. I tried to step up myself and get a lot of boards tonight,” said Mitchell, who finished with 16 rebounds, eight of them on the offensive glass. “They’re a really good team, so we knew we had to come out hard today.”
Wapello (11-1, 9-1 SEISC North) totaled 13 offensive rebounds and out-rebounded IMS 30-11 in the contest.
“I thought that was crucial,” Spielbauer said. “I told them in there, ‘When you rebound like that, you’re going to be hard to beat.’”
Wapello’s Logan Belzer missed a 3-pointer to start the second half, but Mitchell grabbed an offensive rebound that led to a long jumper by Gage Witte. On the next trip down the floor, Mitchell pulled down another offensive board, leading to a Belzer 3-pointer. And on the next Wapello possession, Mitchell put back a missed shot to push the Indians’ lead to 10.
“They just were more physical than us, got the boards and really got the separation right there,” IMS head coach Dwight Gingerich said.
Those second-chance baskets sparked Wapello, which suddenly couldn’t miss. The Indians made seven of their next nine shots to push the lead to 20 points late in the third period.
“We went on a roll, and when that happens, we’re unstoppable,” Mitchell said.
The Indians rolled from there, as IMS (9-2, 8-2 SEISC North) would get no closer than 18 points the rest of the way.
“We weren’t in a bad place (at halftime), but, boy, that third quarter wasn’t pretty and they gained control,” Gingerich said.
Trenton Massner scored a game-high 22 points to lead four Wapello players in double figures. Belzer added 14 points, and Witte, who hit a long 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half to push the Indians’ lead to six at the break, had 13. Mitchell had 12 points to go with his 16 rebounds.
Cole Ours hit four 3-pointers and led IMS with 16 points. Mitchell Schmieder added 12 points, but the IMS big man was limited to just three rebounds.
The two teams entered Friday’s game tied atop the league standings, but Wapello defeated IMS for the second time this season to take sole possession of first place in the North Division.
“It’s really big for us,” Mitchell said. “We have a really good team this year. We have seven seniors we’re going to lose next year, so we have to use what we can right now.”
Spielbauer, the Indians’ long-time coach, downplayed the victory.
“It just means we were better tonight,” he said. “We’ve still got four weeks to get ready for the (state) tournament.”