CEDAR FALLS - There's not a cardiothoracic surgeon willing to check the pulses and heart health of Rebel fans after Saturday night's pandemonium in the Class 1A Substate 3 final.
Fourth-ranked Gladbrook-Reinbeck survived an upset scare from unranked Wapsie Valley, defeating the Warriors 68-62 in overtime to advance to its third-straight state tournament.
Senior Joe Smoldt willed his final campaign in the Rebel blue and silver with 33 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while going 17-for-21 from the free-throw line. Wapsie Valley (18-8) was led by Paul Rundquist and Jaden Kuethe's 12 points apiece.
But it was a victory that almost wasn't for the Rebels (24-2).
Down 55-54 with 20 seconds to go, the ball was in Smoldt's hands as it had been in tight games throughout the season - and his career. The senior guard shot a 3-pointer, missing the mark and nearly falling into the hands of Wapsie Valley defenders. But Walker Thede leapt an extra inch higher, hauling in the rebound and ended up going to the free-throw line with 15 seconds on the clock.
Thede hit one-of-two, tying the game at 55-all, giving the Warriors the final shot.
Free throws were rarely an issue for the Rebels this season, but became a taxing piece of the puzzle of getting back to the state tournament Saturday evening.
"I was hoping for 1-for-2 every time," said G-R head coach Scott Kiburis. "That's one of our strengths, shooting free throws. But, they were really tired. They were giving it everything they got. And they've done that in three games in five days. And there were a lot of people here. A lot of those [free throws] we were only up by two or three. It's easier to shoot a free throw when you're up by four or five.
"When Walker Thede tied the game with that free throw, that rebound he had on the offensive endhe got up so high to give us a chance to win. To knock down 1-of-2 was impressive."
As a team, the Rebels were 24-for-34 from the line. It wasn't anything spectacular, but with the Warriors only going 3-of-6 from the line, and committing 27 to 11 fouls, it was enough to get the job done.
Rundquist fouled out in overtime, which paved the way for other scoring opportunities for the Warriors down the stretch. But Caden Kickbush, who finished with nine points, gave the Rebels the lead it needed at 64-60 with a 1-for-2 mark from the charity stripe and 34.7 seconds to play in extra time.
The junior marksman sealed the deal with a wide-open layup with 20 seconds left, putting G-R up 66-60.
"I just had to make the shot for my team," Kickbush said. "I couldn't let them down at this point. I had to help them. Our bench, our entire team has worked so hard to get to this point. I can't put it in words how happy I am for them."
The Rebels had a sizable lead at the end of the first half, hopping on a 10-0 run to go up 29-19. But 3-point shooting for the Warriors carried the team from Fairbank through the final buzzer. The Warriors were a "live by the 3, die by the 3" kind of team, in every sense of the phrase.
Wapsie Valley made 12 3-pointers and just 11 other field goals the rest of the night, led by Kuethe and Kirk Drew with three treys apiece.
"They shoot 3s and that's what they're there to do," Kiburis said. "They have five guys all look about the same size and they shoot it well. They go after the rebounds and play great defense. I knew it'd be tough, every possession and every pass to Joe they were going to compete for every ball."
The two teams were knotted for 11 turnovers a piece. While the Rebels made the Warriors pay at the free-throw line, Wapsie Valley returned the favor from deep. By the end of regulation, the two teams were deadlocked on paper.
The Rebels moved to 3-0 in overtime games this season. G-R took AGWSR and East Marshall into extra time earlier this year, helping them maintain a perfect conference record. The third time was just as charming for the Rebels, although it gave them a little bit to think about before a trip to Des Moines.
"It's going to help a lot," Kickbush said. "Our whole entire road to this place has been incredible. When we get into overtime, we get into hard situations. But it's going to help us in the end."
G-R has to wait another four days before it finds out who's on the other side of its bill for the state tournament. There will be a selection show Wednesday afternoon, releasing all four classes and the pairings for the state tournament, beginning on March 6.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck 68, Wapsie Valley 62,
At Cedar Falls
GLADBROOK-REINBECK (24-2) - Walker Thede 2 4-6 8, Caden Kickbush 3 2-4 9, Joe Smoldt 7 17-21 33, Matt Roeding 1 0-0 2, Tyler Pierce 5 1-3 11, Thomas Mussig 0 0-0 0, Mason Skovgard 2 0-0 5. TOTALS 20 24-34 68.
WAPSIE VALLEY (18-8) - Paul Rundquist 5 0-0 12, Jaden Kuethe 4 1-1 12, Jake Lien 4 2-2 11, Kirk Drew 4 2-2 11, Carson Kerns 2 0-0 6, Cameron O'Donnell 2 0-0 5, Alec Marticoff 1 0-2 2, Jake Kuhlmann 2 0-1 4, Austin Witenberg 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 23 3-6 62.
G-R 21 12 12 10 13 - 68
WV 19 10 13 13 7 - 62
3-Point GoalsG-R 4 (Smoldt 2, Kickbush, Svokgard), WV 12 (Drew 3, Kuethe 3, Rundquist 2, Kerns 2, Drew, O'Donnell). Total FoulsG-R 11, WV 27. Fouled OutRundquist, Drew, Kuhlmann.