BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Fort Madison boys basketball team has had a rough experience with No. 6-ranked Mt. Pleasant this year, but there’s an old coach’s adage that says it’s hard to beat the same team three times in a season.
Head Coach Ryan Wilson will be hoping that holds true to form as the Bloodhounds take on the Panthers in Mt. Pleasant on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the District 11 championship. The winner will face the winner of District 12 in Fairfield on Feb. 27th at 7 p.m. for the right to go to state.
FMHS advanced with a hard-fought 52-48 win over Chariton on Monday. Mt. Pleasant advanced with a 67-30 win over Keokuk the same night.
Mt. Pleasant won the Southeast Conference and finished the season 6th in the MaxPreps rankings at 19-2 on the year. Their only losses were to Cedar Rapids Xavier 45-55 in the first game of the year, and to Muscatine on a night when Muskies’ junior Joe Weiskamp, who leads Class 3A in scoring, threw up 42.
Fort Madison finished the season 14-7 and in second place in the conference with the only conference losses coming to Mt. Pleasant on Jan. 10 38-64 and on Jan. 27 41-78 at home.
Wilson knows his team will have its hands full but when it’s win or go home anything can happen.
Six of the top 10 scorers in the Southeast Conference will be on display Monday, led by junior Brady Sartorius, who led the conference in scoring at 22 points per game, while Kaleb Cresswell leads Fort Madison at 15 points per game and was 2nd in the conference. The Panther’s junior Jordan Magnani averages 12 points per outing, while Treavor James-Kokjohn is right behind at 11.8 points per game. FMHS senior CJ Richardson is right there at 11.7 points per game and the Panthers’ Colin Mulford is scoring at a just under 10 points per game.
“It’s just like going into Chariton… you have to contain their best. We held (Lim) Chuol to four points below his average and and we won four,” Wilson said “Mt. Pleasant has got a lot of talent and people that can score. So our No. 1 priority will be to limit (Sartorius) and hope when that happens we find we can also limit the others. But obviously, he’s a focus so we’ll do what we can to contain him.”
Against Keokuk Monday, Sartorius was held to just 13 by the Chiefs, but that focus opened up the inside and 6’9″ senior Tom O’Connor dumped in 19, a full 10 points over his season average. Magnani got his 12.
James-Kokjohn led Fort Madison with 18 points Monday night. Richardson had 12 and Cresswell had 10. Kokjohn also leads the Hounds in rebounds with 8.8 per game. O’Connor and Kieran Kohorst are both at 5.5 boards per game to lead the Panthers. Senior Austin Rose is averaging five per game for the Hounds.
The Hounds are going to have to find away to cut the rebounding advantage the Panthers held in the first two games, 27-16 and 26-13.
“We’ve been talking all year, rebounding is effort,” Wilson said. “There have been lots of teams that are bigger than us, but if we give the effort that should take care of it. They play good defense and they’ll try to force us to miss shots. Hopefully we’ll knock more shots down to help negate that.”
The Hounds have won four in a row and six of the last seven and Wilson says if they continue to play like they have been the Hounds should be in the game.
“I would say that we have a shot to win if we play like we have,” he said. “But we also know that Mt. Pleasant brings an intensity that is a lot higher than others. We know what they will bring and we have to step our game up a notch or two from the previous two games.”
Wilson said he was pleased with the turnout at Chariton, but said students having Monday off may have hurt a bit.
“We’re hoping to have a great turnout and fan support with a big student section. That always helps the kids play harder and motivates them,” he said.