Warming up prior to his team’s final regular-season game, Davenport Central’s Ralph Hayes was draining shot after shot.
That continued after Friday’s Mississippi Athletic Conference contest against visiting Muscatine tipped off.
Hayes, a little-used senior who made his first start of the season, hit three 3-pointers and scored 13 points in the first quarter as the 10th-ranked Blue Devils raced out to a 24-8 lead after eight minutes of play. Central rolled to an 83-46 win inside George Marshall Gymnasium on senior night.
Hayes, who entered Friday’s game averaging just 3.1 points per game this season, finished with a career-high 18 points to lead four Central players in double figures. Fellow senior Josh English added 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting. Kaiden Phillips had 14 points, and John Miller chipped in 13 for the Blue Devils (15-6, 12-6 MAC).
Muscatine tried to keep things interesting. Reserve guard Nathan Diercks hit three 3-pointers as the Muskies (0-20, 0-17 MAC) opened the second quarter on a 12-2 run that trimmed Central’s lead to just six points.
“Nate’s one of those guys when he’s on, he’s on,” Muscatine head coach John Windham said. “He’s done that quite a few times for us this year. What I thought was nice was we were looking for him, which is a sign of us moving in the right direction. When someone’s hot, you get him the ball. Early in the year, we wouldn’t have done that.”
But that would be as close as the Muskies would get. Central pushed its lead back to 14 points by halftime. Then the Blue Devils poured in 30 points in the third, which was the most the Blue Devils have scored in a quarter this season.
“We picked up the intensity, and that was good to see,” Central head coach Craig Wurdinger said. “We’ve kind of been waiting to see that. We hadn’t played well the last couple games. This game it was nice to see them raise up and meet some challenges that we threw at them.”
Central’s full-court press forced the Muskies into 31 turnovers in the contest, and the Blue Devils came up with 21 steals.
“After 20 games that shouldn’t be bothering us,” Windham said. “When we did what we needed to do, we beat the press. But then what happens is we have a couple of turnovers and all of a sudden there’s a snowball effect. That comes back to being mentally tough and physically tough, two things we still need to get better at.”
Sophomore Noah Yahn’s 10 points led the Muskies, who open postseason play on Monday at Dubuque Hempstead.
“When you come to state tournament time, everything’s up for grabs. Everyone’s record is 0-0,” Windham said. “We need to come out in practice tomorrow morning and focus in and see what we’ve got. There’s nothing to lose.”
With the win, Central wrapped up a third-place finish in the MAC. The Blue Devils finished only behind co-champions Bettendorf and North Scott in the league.
But now the Blue Devils will turn their thoughts toward postseason play. After a first-round bye, Central will open substate play on Feb. 22, hosting the winner of a quarterfinal game between Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Burlington.
“As a team we were picked fifth (in the MAC) at the beginning of the year, and we finished third,” Wurdinger said. “Like I told them, we’re having a good year, but we need to go to state to have a great year.”
That’s the objective for Hayes and his Blue Devil teammates.
“We’re trying to go to state,” Hayes said. “That’s been our main goal since the start of the season.”