In their final game of the year in Seedorff Gymnasium, West Delaware rallied from a 21-11 halftime deficit to defeat Center Point-Urbana, 45-44, in a sub-state semifinal game.
The Hawks struggled to score in the first half. After a three-pointer by Blake DeMoss and a basket by Gavin Soppe gave the Hawks an early 5-2 lead, West Delaware failed to score again in the first quarter and trailed 8-5 heading into the second.
It was more of the same offensively for the Hawks in the second quarter. Another DeMoss three pointer and a free throw and basket by Derek Krogmann was all the Hawks could muster.
Head Coach Matt Uthoff credited his defense with keeping the Hawks within striking distance. “Thank goodness we came out early and defended pretty well because offensively we were sluggish. Our defense kept us in it.”
“CPU plays so dang hard and we knew it was going to be a dogfight all the way to the end. One of our keys tonight was we had to match their energy, especially defensively.”
Uthoff said his message to his team at halftime was simple. “It was more of a motivational thing. We have some really nice kids here who are a bunch of winners. Last year our season ended short on our home floor. It’s not happening again this year.”
West Delaware got on the board first to start the second half with a jumper by Krogmann. CPU’s Kole Tupa responded with a basket before West Delaware went on an 8-0 run to cut the CPU lead to 23-21.
CPU broke its scoring drought with a basket to make it 25-21 before Soppe’s put back got the Hawks within two. Jamison Smith’s tip in tied the score 25-25 before Tupa’s basket at the buzzer gave CPU a 27-25 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Logan Woellert scored on a drive to the hoop to start the fourth quarter, tying the game. After a CPU miss, Soppe’s three-pointer gave West Delaware a 30-27 lead, their first since early in the first quarter.
Krogmann picked up his third foul with 6:25 left and CPU’s Alex Wade made one of two free throws to cut the Hawk lead to 30-28.
Krogmann answered with a shot off the block for the 32-28 Hawk lead, but picked up his fourth foul on CPU’s next possession with 5:29 remaining to play.
Krogmann went to the bench, and after two CPU free throws, a free throw by Kyle Kelley gave West Delaware a 33-30 lead.
CPU scored the next three points to tie the score, and Krogmann came back into the game. Woellert’s two free throws gave the Hawks a 35-33 lead before CPU tied it with an inside move by Cameron Hasleiet.
Kelley responded with a jumper from the wing, giving the Hawks the lead back 37-35.
Krogmann picked up his fifth foul, leaving the game with 2:41 to play. CPU couldn’t convert on the front end of the 1-and-1, and West Delaware ran over a minute off the clock before Soppe was fouled with 1:22 remaining.
Soppe knocked down both free throws, and after a CPU miss, Kelley hit a pair of free throws to give West Delaware a six-point cushion, 41-35 with one minute left.
They would need every bit of that cushion.
CPU’s Alex Wade cut the lead to four with 36 seconds remaining.
Woellert was fouled and hit both free throws for the 43-37 Hawk lead. CPU responded with a three-pointer by Caleb Andrews with 18 seconds left.
With 14 seconds remaining, Soppe knocked down one of two free throws for West Delaware before CPU’s Andrews was fouled and hit one free throw of his own, cutting the Hawk lead to 44-41.
CPU fouled Soppe with four seconds remaining, and his first three throw made it 45-41, icing the game for the Hawks. Soppe’s free throw proved to be important. After he missed his second throw, CPU’s Tupa launched a three-quarters court shot that found nothing but net as the buzzer sounded.
West Delaware was 11-for-15 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. “The free throws were huge,” said Uthoff. “When games are on the line and you want to win, you want to get to the state tournament, you have to do so many little things. Tonight, our kids stepped up and finished the game.”
The West Delaware seniors didn’t have a Senior Night this year due to a weather cancellation. “I guess tonight was kind of an impromptu senior night without all the celebration stuff,” Uthoff said. “I think the seniors would rather take this opportunity to play in front of this crowd tonight and in this atmosphere. I couldn’t be more proud of everything these seniors have accomplished.”
Scoring leaders were: Soppe 13, Woellert nine, Kelley eight, Krogmann seven, DeMoss six and Smith two.