CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Joe Wieskamp doubts that he had ever shot a basketball the last time the Muscatine boys basketball team advanced to the state tournament in 2002.
The Muskie senior was just 2 years old, unaware at the time that he would become the key to getting them back there for the first time in 16 years.
While Wieskamp stepped up “big time” in Tuesday night’s 58-55 substate final victory over Linn-Mar, just as coach Gary Belger had predicted the previous day, the win wouldn’t have been possible without the help of his supporting cast.
After leading 29-22 at halftime and staying ahead for most of the third quarter, the Muskies found themselves down by three with just over 3 minutes remaining in the game.
Muskie senior Josh Hutton knocked down a 3 while getting fouled and converted his and-one. The basket was his first of the night after starting 0 for 5 from the field and put Muscatine ahead 49-48.
“I missed a couple early ones,” Hutton said. “Coach just told me get into the rhythm of the game, let it come to you. Joe made a great move, and they all collapsed on him. Obviously he kicked it out, and I hit that 3. I was fortunate enough to get the foul as well.”
After Linn-Mar answered, Hutton got fouled again attempting a 3 and knocked down 2 of 3 free throws, giving Muscatine a 51-50 advantage.
“As for the next play, I guess maybe they didn’t learn,” Hutton said.
Linn-Mar regained the lead momentarily, 53-51 with just under a minute remaining, but left Wieskamp just enough time for more heroics.
He made six points over the final 40 seconds. Fittingly, from the same spot he scored his 2,000th career point and broke the Class 4A all-time scoring record in Iowa, Wieskamp secured Muscatine’s ticket to the state tournament.
The 6-foot-6 Iowa Hawkeyes commit made his team’s final five points from the free-throw line, and Linn-Mar clanked a 3-point attempt off the rim at the buzzer.
“I knew it was my moment,” Wieskamp said. “I had to take advantage of it.”
Wieskamp finished with 36 points and 14 rebounds, outscoring Linn-Mar junior Trey Hutcheson by just one point. Wieskamp also finished 14 of 15 from the foul line. Hutton added seven points, Jackson Foulk six, Lex Hahn five and Bryce Howard four for the Muskies.
For all the individual accomplishments Wieskamp has achieved this season, he confirmed after the game that none will stack up the moment he experienced waving the state qualifier banner before a packed section of Muskie fans that traveled more than 80 miles Tuesday to the U.S. Cellular Center.
“We weren’t going to let this one slip away,” Hutton said. “Most of these guys, we’ve been together since the third grade. We weren’t going to let it slip away. No way.”
Added Wieskamp, “It’s something special. These guys put in a lot of work throughout the year. Not only this year, but in the offseason and years past. We came up short last year, but we got a good substate and we were happy with our draw.”
Belger told his players before the game that they were going to win.
“It just comes with destiny,” he said. “I came all the way up here from Houston and gave up a $70,000 job for them. I wanted to end it this way with them getting to the state tournament. We’ll worry about that later. We’ll do what we can to prepare. We got a week to do it.
“These people of Muscatine, I mean what do you say, they were there.”