At six-foot-two, Maquoketa Valley’s Brian Heims is still just the fourth tallest player on Maquoketa Valley’s varsity basketball team.
Take a look at the scoresheet, however, and his presence looms much larger than that. The senior forward currently leads his team with eight rebounds-per-game (52) — all earned in the process of tanking through a great many minutes while his younger teammates adjust to the game.
Against East Buchanan, Dec. 11, Heims decided to give scoring a try, too. In a close battle between conference rivals, Heims put up a season-high 17 points and 15 rebounds for his second double-double this season. His efforts helped boost the Wildcats (4-2) to the 47-44 win.
“He scored a lot of those points from the line, too.” MV head coach Eric Conner said of Heims. “He really stepped up and hit those big free throws when we needed them.”
Heims wasn’t the only senior to play a role that night, either.
“Blake Becker stepped up and hit a big free throw to make it a three-point game with about 12 seconds left. It’s a much different mindset for East Buchanan when they know they have to hit a three to stay in it,” Conner said.
The Wildcats opened the first quarter with a 10-8 lead and shot off to a 26-16 start by the half. East Buchanan came back and held MV to seven points in the third quarter before posting an 18-point fourth to get themselves back into the game. From there, Becker and his Wildcats were able to buckle down in crunch time and snag the win over the Bucs.
Freshman AJ Ambundo (12 points) and sophomore Andrew Holtz (11) also finished with double-digit points on the night. The latter added six rebounds, two assists and a block. Becker contributed five points, six rebounds and an assist.
Freshman Kaiden Gage led EB with 17 points and six rebounds while senior Brock Naber added five buckets from behind the arc, but those efforts could not prevent the Bucs from slipping to 2-4 on the season.
The Wildcat squad returned home, Dec. 14, to see their stands at full capacity cheering for a worthy contest between the two girls teams. By the time the boys game rolled around, even more hype had accumulated, with spectators lining the corners of the court and peering in from the hallways. The IHSAA 2A, No. 4 Lynx didn’t waste the opportunity to put on a show for the onlookers, racking up 50 points before the half en route to an 82-36 road win.
“They’ve got one of the best players in the state in Jake Hilmer and they’re a talented team that we knew we’d have to play our best basketball to compete with,” Conner said of the match-up. “When they slapped that pressure on us and we started turning the ball over that kind of started a downward trend. We kind of played a bit scared after that, but at the same time we knew we were playing a great team that’s probably going to be competing for a state title.”
Hilmer, a senior, scored 28 of those first-half points and finished with 33 on the evening — plus eight assists and four steals. Senior Trevor Boge hit 3-of-4 three-point attempts for the Lynx in a 12-point, four-assist performance.
The most promising individual performance for MV came from Ambundo, who scored all of his team-leading 15 points from behind the three-point line. He missed just two long-range attempts on the night, going 5-for-7 in his 17 minutes of play.
Holtz dished out six assists, finishing with his 30th of the season and a team best. Heims added eight rebounds and four points. Becker added five points and two rebounds.
Despite the tough loss, Conner has his squad focused on the positives.
“Just looking against the box score from East Buchanan, if we can keep getting three guys in the double-digit range, consistently, we’re going to be right where we need to be at the end of games,” Conner said.