An intense rivalry has developed over the years between Des Moines Christian Lions and Pella Christian Eagles. That intensity was on display Tuesday, Feb. 25, in the Newton High School Gymnasium where the two rivals squared off for the Class 2A District 13 Boys Title and the right to advance to the SubState final.
That intensity was heavy from the opening tip and by the time the game entered in to the second half, it was so thick that you could have sliced it and sold it for 10 bucks a pound.
It was the Eagles that answered every challenge the Lions would offer and they used gutsy free throw shooting down the stretch to post a 53-47 victory.
When the final buzzer sounded the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat was very evident. The large Pella Christian following erupted in spontaneous joy while the players and coaches were in a state of euphoria.
The Eagles held the upper hand for most of the first half, but a three point bucket and a pair of free throws by Curran Ingram near the end of the first half gave the Lions a 25-24 lead.
In the final minute of the first half, the Eagles took the ball inside to Josh Van Gorp and the “big fella” pounded it home for a 26-25 PC lead at intermission.
The Lions came out of the halftime break and grabbed the lead with a three ball by Ingram. The Eagles answered with a drive through the defense by Dan Jungling and a three ball by Jack Vermeer for a 31-30 lead.
A conventional three point play by Jackson Waring put the Lions back on top, but not for long.
Vermeer drained another three for a 34-33 Eagle lead. An inside bucket by Grant Veenstra put the Lions back on top until Ryan Vande Haar connected on the inside for a 36- 35 PC lead.
Curran gave the lead back to the Lions, but a pair of free throws by Jungling, a baseline drive by Keean Cadwell and a free throw by Van Gorp gave Pella Christian a 41-38 lead after three quarters of play.
DM Christian opened the final eight minutes with a back door move by Adam Witty and a drive by Ingram for a 42-41 lead for the Lions.
That would be the last lead the Lions would hold as PC answered with an inside three point play by Van Gorp for a 44-42 lead. Then Vermeer stepped to the line for a one and bonus and nailed both shots. Ingram scored again, but Jungling canned both ends of a one and one for a 48- 44 PC lead with 3:14 left in the game.
Free throws, ball control and defense were the key ingredients in the final three minutes as the Eagles put the frosting on a huge win.
It was a relieved PC coach Larry Hessing that talked about the play of his team in this game.
“We know them and we knew it would be a tough game,” Hessing said. “The last time we played they dropped 84 points on us (in January) and literally ran us out of the gym. We knew what we would have to take away from them on defense and for the most part we were successful. Holding them to 47 points is great defense. Ingram is a very good player and very tough to guard. We were able to get into the bonus and we hit some really big free throws.”
Vermeer led the Eagles with 17 points and Van Gorp and Jungling were also in double digits with 14 and 13 points respectively.
Van Gorp yanked down nine rebounds to lead his team on the glass and Jungling was the assist leader with three.
The Eagles are now 12-10 and move on to sub-state play at the Roundhouse in Marshalltown to ply against South Hamilton.
The Lions finished the season at 17-6 overall.
Odds and Ends
The Lions are coached by Jason Van Mersbergen, who is a Pella Christian graduate.
Luke Ballenger, a Pella High graduate, is an assistant coach for Des Moines Christian.