MT. PLEASANT — They’re the highest ranked basketball team in Southeast Iowa, the only undefeated one and the last remaining unbeaten in the area, but WACO added a little icing on the cake with a victory in the top game at the Southeast Iowa Super Conference shootout on Friday night at Iowa Wesleyan. WACO survived an early rush from North Division champion Pekin but ran away late for a 59-50 win, their 20th victory in as many tries.
Pekin gave WACO everything they could handle in the first half. The Panthers led 14-10 after the first period and held a 24-16 lead during the second quarter, using a 13-point half from Nick Tschudy and seven points from Brayden Sobaski to put some fear into the Warrior faithful.
The Warriors, however, closed out the second quarter on an 11-1 run, capped off by a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Gabe Reichenbach that sent the WACO side of the stands into a frenzy. The Warriors went into the halftime break leading 27-25, with Reichenbach’s 10 points leading the way.
“We’ve been down before. We’ve been in tough situations before,” said senior Pietro Vannini, who put up seven first-half points. “Our feeling was, ‘We’ve done a good job of coming back, but the game isn’t over yet. You’ve got to keep working.’”
Braden Hammond nailed two early 3-pointers in the third quarter, and that sparked another good eight minutes for the Warriors. For the second-straight quarter, WACO outscored Pekin 17-11, and the Warriors held a 44-36 lead into the final period.
Pekin could never rekindle the magic they had in the first half. Despite nine more points from Sobaski in the second half, the Panthers would never get back within striking distance after WACO’s third-quarter run. “They’re probably one of the top three we’ll play all year,” said WACO senior Nik Coble. “We tried to take away their strengths. We knew who their shooters were, and some of them still got them off.”
Reichenbach finished the night with 19 points. Vannini had 15 points and four steals. Coble finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Hammond scored nine points, and the duo of Drew Kissell and Elijah McGohan had two points apiece.
WACO’s big three of Coble, Vannini and Kissell average just under 39 points per game this season. Pekin held the trio to 10 points under their season average, and it still wasn’t enough to solve the area’s top team.
“They have to watch out for those other kids,” Coble said. “Gabe showed it tonight. He had a big game for us, and Braden Hammond had some big threes for us that really gave us some separation in that third quarter there. It’s kind of pick your poison.”
Tschudy finished the night with 18 points for Pekin. Sobaski had 16. Kennan Winn scored seven. Cameron Millikin had four. Brock Long scored three, and Dayne Eckley had two.
WACO’s win finished off a 3-0 week against their top three district opponents in the newly released IHSAA postseason brackets. The Warriors knocked off fourth seed New London 70-44 on Tuesday, second seed Notre Dame 60-48 on Thursday, and then Pekin, who has the No. 3 seed, one night later. WACO is now onw win away from a perfect 21-0 regular season with a road game at Van Buren on Tuesday.
“Every game with this group is special,” Head coach Paul Kissell said. “They realize the amount of work and energy it takes to get to our bigger goals. We were close last year, within six inches of Nik’s final shot or them missing one free throw. They appreciate every game out there on the court. Each game is special for them, and I think if you watch the energy and effort out there you can see that.”