The tone setter for the Iola Mustangs on Thursday wasn’t one of the eight Mustangs that found their way into the scoring column. In fact, the only stats that show up in the official scorer’s book for Braden Plumlee are four quarters played and five fouls.
Nonetheless, Plumlee was the heartbeat of the Mustangs in a 78-59 win over Santa Fe Trail as he and the team’s other five seniors were honored prior to the tip-off.
Plumlee used that energy and translated it to the court where he made it his personal mission to make life for Charger star John Long as uncomfortable as possible.
Plumlee hounded the sophomore up and down the court, he served as a one-man press on many possessions just to annoy Long and make it tough for him to get the ball.
“(Coach Jay Applegate) was constantly reminding me that I needed to be up, even after a free throw, to make sure that they pass it to another kid,” Plumlee said. “He didn’t want him to get the ball before half-court, or even at all, he just said, ‘don’t let him get the ball — ever.’”
The Mustangs fed off the energy that Plumlee provided and exploded out to a 20-8 lead at the end of the first quarter with junior forward Evan Sigg propelling the offense with eight points in the opening eight minutes, including a buzzer-beating layup to end the period.
The first quarter wasn’t perfect for the Mustangs though with junior forward Ethan Holloway picking up two fouls in period and having to head to the bench.
Senior Isaiah Fawson had two buckets to grow the lead to 24-8 and the rout appeared to be on.
The Chargers clawed back to within 26-15 and the Mustangs appeared to be struggling. That’s when Applegate put Holloway back in the game.
The junior immediately scored on a putback and then hit a mid-range jumper. Then Joey Zimmerman scored. Another Holloway basket capped the 8-0 spurt and Iola’s lead was up to 34-15 and the rout was truly on.
Junior Cale Barnhart got into the act to end the half with a buzzer-beating three off of inside-out penetration and Iola had a 40-19 lead at the break.
The third quarter was defined by big plays that ignited the crowd.
The first came on a Mustangs fast break which got Holloway out in front of everybody. That was bad news for the Chargers as Holloway rose to the rim and threw down a two-handed dunk to give his team a 49-21 lead.
“You could tell they were pretty deflated after he threw that one down,” senior Ben Cooper said.
The next big play was again sparked by Plumlee. The senior tipped the ball away from a Charger guard and in one motion dove out-of-bounds for it while looking for a pass.
“I saw the ball and I just rushed for it and turned because I knew Ben was behind me,” Plumlee said. “Once I caught it, I just instantly tried to get it to him.”
From the ground after the pass, Plumlee knew the end result was good.
“I saw Ethan stand up and scream at me,” Plumlee said. “Then I sat on a knee and saw Ben get the and-one.”
Plumlee’s pass found Cooper heading to the rim and the Iola point guard completed a layup while being fouled.
Cooper was called for a technical as the entire team exploded in celebration, but it was safe to say, it was worth it.
Iola had a 55-30 lead and things were completely out-of-hand on ‘Parents’ Night.’
The fourth quarter largely consisted of the Mustangs attempting to run out the clock and not further embarrass their opponent and Long throwing up shot-after-shot for the Chargers.
Long finished with 31 points for the Chargers, but needed 21 garbage-time points to get there.
Cooper led Iola in scoring with 22 points, while Sigg netted 19 and Fawson and Holloway had 13 and 12 respectively.
Now the Mustangs turn their attention to next Friday when they are set to open substate action.
“It was a very good momentum game to carry us into substate and put it on them,” Cooper said. “I think we are the team to beat.”
Applegate isn’t ready to say goodbye to his seniors yet either.
“They will be missed, but we will worry about the in five more games,” Applegate said referencing the number of wins they need to win the state championship.
Santa Fe Trail 59
Iola 20 20 22 16 – 78
SFT 8 11 21 19 – 59
Iola (12-8; 7-5 league)
(2pt/3pt-FTM-FTA-Points) Joey Zimmerman 1/1-0-0-5; Ben Cooper 5/2-6-8-22; Isaiah Fawson 3/1-4-7-13; Cale Barnhart 0/1-0-0-3; Isaac Vink 0/0-2-6-2; Ethan Holloway 6/0-0-1-12; Derek Bycroft 0/0-2-2-2; Evan Sigg 8/0-3-4-19; Blake Ashmore 0/0-0-2-0. TOTALS: 23/5-17-30-78. FOULED OUT: Braden Plumlee.
Santa Fe Trail
(2pt/3pt-FTM-FTA-Points) Cameron Koger 1/0-0-0-2; Andrew Berckefeldt 0/0-1-2-1; John Long 7/3-8-13-31; Will Herren 1/0-0-0-2; Carson Stumpff 2/0-0-0-4; Gabe Dunnaway 3/0-4-7-10; Jaden Bone 2/0-5-6-9. TOTALS: 16/3-18-29-59. FOULED OUT: Herren, Bone.