BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Aside from a 3-3 tie in the first quarter, the Mt. Pleasant Panthers showed Fort Madison why they’re one of the best, if not the best, Class 3A team in the state.
The two clubs met in the second round of the Substate District 5 bracket on Thursday in Mt. Pleasant with the Panthers coming out with a 67-25 win and ending Fort Madison’s season with a thud.
At the 5:49 mark, senior Treavor James-Kokjohn stepped out just off the left side and buried a 3-pointer to tie the game at 3s. Senior Colin Mulford, one of five starting seniors for Mt. Pleasant, countered with his own 3-ball on the next trip down the floor. The Hounds’ Logan Rashid scored off the dribble in the lane on the Hounds’ next possession to make it 5-6 Panthers, but any idea that the Hounds were going to hang with the No. 1 team in the state, was quickly washed away.
In the final AP rankings on Feb. 12, the 19-3 Panthers were tied with Cedar Rapids Xavier for the top spot in Class 3A. Xavier beat the Panthers in the first game of the season 68-62.
The Panthers went on a 14-2 run to end the first quarter as Fort Madison repeatedly missed interior shots, although they were able to get open looks.
The second quarter was very much the same as the first with the Hounds’ only points coming on back-to-back buckets by Jayden Fedler at around the five minute mark. Jonathon Ita countered after Fedler’s four points to make it 11-32. Sheymouhr Redd-Donald scored on a drive through the Panther press and it looked like the Hounds had something cooking, but that would be the final points for the Hounds until Brandon Keester hit a trey from the right side with 1:36 left in the third quarter with the running clock already in play at 16-57.
That stretch amounted to one of the coldest stretches of the season for the Hounds as Mt. Pleasant outscored Fort Madison 20-0 during the run.
The Hounds, who didn’t have a single player in double figures, got another 3-pointer by James-Kokjohn at the end of the third for a 19-60 deficit. Redd-Donald converted a three-point play after being fouled by the Panthers’ Jordan Magnani and Keester hit his second three-pointer of the night to set the final 25-67 score.
Senior Kaleb Cresswell, who only scored two points in his last game as a Bloodhound said he didn’t hang his head after the loss.
“Played the number one team in the state. They’re tough. We got down early and everyone panicked. But like I told the kids in the lockerroom – this is nothing to hang your head about. That team is going to finish in the top four in the state, from one to 12 they’re just hard to beat,” Cresswell said.
“My four years at FM have been a blessing honestly. Right now I’m looking at it like, ‘Dang, I don’t get to lace up tomorrow and I don’t get to put on the Bloodhound’s jersey anymore, but it’s something we all go through.”
Head coach Ryan Wilson said the early misses set the tone for the lopsided loss.
“In the first half when you miss 11 shots in the lane and you have 11 turnovers that’s about 30 points,” he said. “We missed 11 shots, maybe one or two of those were contested. And then they go and score 10 of 11 in transition, there’s 30 points at halftime. We go into the lockerroom to talk about those things and then you come out and your shot chart is nothing but 3 pointers. We just got beat in the first half.”
He said the Panthers like to control the pace and direction of the game, and can force that on teams.
“Mt. Pleasant makes teams play in a way they are not comfortable. They want you to catch the ball in the corner and play 95 feet. They’ll make you go fast and make mistakes. We did a good job breaking the press, but then we were going so fast we just missed the shots.”
Rashid finished with two points, Redd-Donald had five, Keester and James-Kokjohn each had six. Fedler finished with four to go with Cresswell’s bucket.
Wilson said the seniors worked hard all year and the squad will miss the leadership next year.
“Not many kids work harder than Cresswell. There’s a lot of individual work that he did that other kids need to see and do,” Wilson said. “Kokjohn became a lot better this year and was the number 1 rebounder in 3A and was averaging 16 points a game before post season. Lorenzo played three years and came out late this year. He worked hard in practice and is one of those kids who worked and played hard, and all three of those kids are going to be missed.”
Magnani led Mt. Pleasant with 26 points including six from three-point land. Senior Brady Sartorius finished with 16 for Mt. Pleasant and Ita had 11 to highlight the scoring for Mt. Pleasant. The Panthers will face Solon in Muscatine on Monday. Solon beat Fairfield 57-48 on the other side of the bracket on Thursday night.