FAIRFIELD — Keokuk didn’t make it easy on the Mt. Pleasant boys’ basketball team on Monday night in Fairfield. The Chiefs clawed back from en early nine-point deficit to tie the game in the first half, but Mt. Pleasant hung on down the stretch and knocked off their Southeast Conference foes, 53-49.
The game couldn’t have started much better for Mt. Pleasant. The Panthers stifled Keokuk’s offense throughout the first quarter, holding them scoreless for the first few minutes and eventually winning the first quarter 13-4. Sam Beatty was active inside with six early points.
Keokuk scrapped back in the second quarter, thanks in part to a huge second quarter from leading scorer Anthony Potratz. He hit a couple of big threes from the corner, and the Chiefs got back into a tie with Mt. Pleasant at 27-27. Keegan Kohorst was fouled on a layup attempt with no time remaining and hit one of two free throws before the halftime break to give the Panthers a 28-27 lead at the break.
Rhett Zeglen was quiet in the first half after picking up a couple of early fouls, but he made up for it in the third quarter. Zeglen found the hot hand early on and scored nine points in the third to help will the Panthers to a 44-39 lead after three quarters.
“He came up big for us,” Head coach Caleb Akey said. “Unfortunately he was in foul trouble, so he had to sit a little bit, but the last few games, he’s had that pep in his step, looking to be more active offensively. That’s definitely something we need.”
It was a scary fourth quarter for Mt. Pleasant fans, who had to sweat out a one-possession game for a good chunk of the final eight minutes. The Chiefs scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to cut the Panthers’ advantage to 44-43, but a fastbreak layup by Zeglen gave the Panthers a three-point lead with 3:32 on the clock.
Keokuk stayed right on Mt. Pleasant’s heel throughout the fourth quarter, and even had a couple of chances to tie the game in the final minute. Trailing 50-47, the Chiefs put up back-to-back three-pointers. The second of which, by Eddie Lee, was open from the top of the key. That shot hit rim and bounced into the hands of two Keokuk players, but the two Chiefs collided and knocked the ball out of bounds.
After a timeout, Beatty hit an open layup to make it a five point game. After another Keokuk miss, Kohorst was fouled and hit one of two free throws. Keokuk knocked down a couple free throws with one second left to cut the lead back to four points by the final buzzer.
Beatty and Zeglen scored 15 points apiece in the win to co-lead the team. Beatty also finished the game with a team-leading six rebounds. Kohorst finished with 14 to give Mt. Pleasant three double-digit scorers.
Tucker Johnson had four points in the win. Clayton Lowery and Jaxon Hoyle scored two points apiece. Brody Bender, who returned to the lineup after missing time to a knee injury, scored one point and dished out two assists.
After the game, Coach Akey spoke about the value of Bender’s return to the lineup.
“He’s our leading rebounder, and he might still be our leading rebounder after he missed all those games,” Akey said about his sixth man. “It’s important for that. He’s very active. He’s not overly tall, but he’s a pretty long player. Deflections, things like that, are very important for us.”
Mt. Pleasant will play No. 5 Fairfield in the district championship, which will take place in Fairfield on Thursday, Feb. 21. The Trojans led Centerville by just eight points in the second game of the doubleheader, but pulled away in the second half for a 51-29 win.
In other Class 3A Substate 5 action, No. 6 Oskaloosa knocked out South Tama 65-28, and Washington outlasted Ft. Madison 54-50. Oskaloosa and Washington will play in the other substate semifinal, in Oskaloosa, at the same time as the Mt. Pleasant-Fairfield game.