KEOKUK — The last four times Keokuk and Mt. Pleasant had met up in a boys basketball game, the end always looked the same; Joy on the Keokuk side and disappointment on the side of Mt. Pleasant. In Monday night’s Class 3A Region 5 quarterfinal, the Panthers flipped the script.
Mt. Pleasant exorcised it’s Keokuk demons when the sixth-seeded Panthers played the third-seeded Chiefs in the regional opener. The Panthers started out hot and clung on at the end to win 50-46, snapping a four-game losing streak against their newfound nemesis and earning a spot in the regional semifinals.
“It was difficult,” said Mt. Pleasant junior Dewon Trent. “But we got it done.”
And the Panthers couldn’t do it without their man in the middle. With Mt. Pleasant leading 48-46 in the final seconds and Keokuk holding onto possession, Trent came away from a steal on the defensive end, got fouled and sank two free throws in the final six seconds to help his team hang on for dear life.
“We definitely had some big stops down the stretch,” said Mt. Pleasant head coach Eric Rawson. “To see him come up with the loose ball and knock the free throws down at the other end was pretty special.”
The Panthers jumped out in front early, capitalizing on a spark off the bench from sophomore Owen Vansickel. Vansickel knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the opening minutes to help Mt. Pleasant race to an early 13-2 lead before taking a 13-5 advantage into the second quarter.
“I was feeling it,” Vansickel said. “I knew in warm ups I would hit a couple big ones.”
The Panthers dominated the second quarter, utilizing another three from Vansickel and eight points from Trent to stretch the lead to 28-11 at halftime. When the third period began, however, it was a whole different ballgame.
The Chiefs played razor sharp with their backs against the wall. Keokuk’s full-court press wreaked havoc on Mt. Pleasant in the second half and helped the Chiefs pull within four before the end of the third quarter. The Panthers’ lead was up to 35-29 after the third, but the Chiefs kept coming in the fourth, and even took a short-lived 45-44 lead with two minutes left.
Jack Johnson sifted through the Keokuk defense to lay the ball up with 1:40 showing on the clock, and Brevin Wilson took a charge on the other end that wiped out the Chiefs’ go-ahead layup. Both Wilson and Johnson went 1-for-2 on the line in the final minute-and-a-half to help their team cling on to the lead.
“They made a heck of a run,” said Vansickel. “But we held our own and Dewon made some good free throws.”
After Trent’s pair of game-icing free throws, the Chiefs hoisted up a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer that rimmed out, leading to a Mt. Pleasant celebration on Keokuk’s home floor.
“We let loose a little bit,” Coach Rawson said. “We were excited for the guys, and watching them make the plays down the stretch. That excitement kind of builds up.”
Trent finished the night with a team-high 19 pointes. Vansickel had 11. Wilson finished with nine. Johnson scored six, and Dylon Hagans had five.
Mt. Pleasant (13-10) will play at Mount Vernon in the regional semifinals on Thursday. The Mustangs knocked off Fort Madison to earn that spot. The winner of that game will play either Davenport Assumption (16-6) or Cedar Rapids Xavier (11-10) in the regional final on March 1.