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Cedar Rapids Xavier hits clutch shot down the stretch to hold off Dubuque Wahlert in OT

Josef Lemker's three as the shot clock wound down was the difference
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The Xavier bench approves during a 48-44 overtime win over Dubuque Wahlert on Monday night. (Photo by Dave Kettering/Dubuque Telegraph Herald)

The Xavier bench approves during a 48-44 overtime win over Dubuque Wahlert on Monday night. (Photo by Dave Kettering/Dubuque Telegraph Herald)

By Douglas Miles 

MANCHESTER – It is a play that Cedar Rapids Xavier practices.

The scenario? One second on the shot clock. Only the cleanest catch and heave will do.

Josef Lemker drilled it from beyond the three-point line in practice on Sunday. The senior helped deliver his team to the state tournament with it Monday night.

"It is one second, you have got to get a quick shot up," Lemker said after the fourth-ranked Saints got past Dubuque Wahlert in overtime, 48-44, in a Class 3A boys' basketball substate final at West Delaware High School. "Find a good look and get it towards the rim and just do what you do."

The victory capped a fantastic turnaround season for Xavier (18-6), which won just 11 games in each of the previous three years and will compete at the state tournament for the first time since 2018. The Saints will open with a state quarterfinal game on Tuesday, March 7 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

"It is to our program and to our school," said fourth-year Saints' head coach Mike Freeman, a Xavier alumnus. "Xavier has a winning tradition. These kids have done that, but first and foremost, we have to credit Dubuque Wahlert. We are both two tough Catholic schools, got kids that battle, kids that do the right thing. I mean, that was a slugfest. You knew you weren't going to have anybody wilt. Nobody did. Someone just made the last shot."

That "last shot" of consequence belonged to Lemker. With 28.9 seconds left in overtime, the shot clock showing "1" and Xavier clinging to 42-41 lead, every indication was that Wahlert was about to get the ball back with a chance to go ahead.

Instead, the Saints worked the last shot-clock tick to perfection.

"It is a play we work on every single day," Freeman said. "We work on it every year. Our guys know it. I didn't draw anything up. I called it, they knew what we are doing and they executed. Credit to them."

As Lemker's defender followed Xavier junior Joe Bean closer to the basket, inbounds passer Aidan McDermott tossed the ball to Lemker, who left his feet, caught the ball while airborne and pushed it towards the basket.

Swish. All net.

"It's really good," Lemker said. "But the game truly wasn't over yet, so you have got to stay locked in. But it was a good moment."

"Josef Lemker played in two state title games and won a state title in football," Freeman added. "He has been in those moments before."

After a stunned Wahlert bunch emerged from a time out, Xavier got the defensive stop it needed and pushed its advantage to 47-41 with a pair of free throws from senior Aidan Yamilkoski and 14.1 seconds left.

Senior Luke Smith capped Wahlert's scoring with a three-pointer that got the Golden Eagles back within one possession at 47-44, but McDermott sealed the Xavier victory with a final free throw.

"We played some solid defense," Lemker said. "That is what kept us going. Obviously it was a low-scoring game, so we just stuck to what we know best from practice and just executed."

The margin was tight throughout the contest. Xavier scored the first eight points of the game, but Wahlert got within a point at 13-12 by the end of the first quarter.

As both teams struggled to find some offensive flow, Bean provided the punch with 10 of his team's 20 first-half points. Wahlert senior forward Nolan Berendes recorded eight of his 15 points in a first half that ended with Xavier ahead, 20-18.

"I was shooting really well," Bean said. "I went to the gym four times (today) before this, actually. Worked on my shot and made it work for the team. It was awesome."

Bean led all scorers with 17 points, while McDermott chipped in seven off the bench, including a three-point basket that ended the third quarter and gave the Saints their largest lead of the second half at 31-26.

Wahlert (13-11) opened the final frame with 11 of the first 15 points, cappped by a six-point flurry from senior post player Duke Faley that gave the Golden Eagles the lead at 37-35 with 1:04 left in regulation.

Xavier's next possession ended with a bucket from Yamilkoski – who finished with nine points – and regulation ended with the score tied at 37-all.

"This has been a back-and-forth game," Freeman said. "It is hard work. People don't understand how hard it is to get here. Just look at these games. Every game I looked at in 1A, 2A was a close game to go. Shots here or there."

Faley – who paced Wahlert with 16 points and eight rebounds – opened the scoring in the extra session with a pair of free throws before Xavier's 10-2 clinching overtime surge.

"It is definitely big," Lemker said. "It is our head coach's first trip to state, as well. He is fairly new, so it is truly special."

Boys basketball


No. 4 Cedar Rapids Xavier 48, Dubuque Wahlert 44 (overtime)

At Manchester

DUBUQUE WAHLERT (44): Luke Smith 1 0-0 3, Jack Walsh 2 0-0 4, Nolan Berendes 5 3-4 15, Seamus Crahan 3 0-0 6, Duke Faley 6 4-5 16, Quinn Walsh 0 0-0 0, Ethan Meyer 0 0-0 0, Patrick Fitzgerald 0 0-0 0, Charlie Becker 0 0-0 0, Totals 17 7-9 44.

CEDAR RAPIDS XAVIER (48): Thomas Sundell 0 0-0 0, Josef Lemker 3 0-0 9, Aidan Yamilkoski 3 2-2 9, Joe Bean 7 0-0 17, Tyler Netolicky 3 0-1 6, Aidan McDermott 2 2-3 7, Preston Lang 0 0-0 0, Dominic D'Amico 0 0-0 0, Michael Cunningham 0 0-0 0, Totals 18 4-6 48.

Dubuque Wahlert 12 6 8 11 7–44

Cedar Rapids Xavier 13 7 11 6 11–48

Three-point goals – Dubuque Wahlert 3 (Berendes 2, Smith 1), Cedar Rapids Xavier 8 (Bean 3, Lemker 3, Yamilkoski 1, McDermott 1); Rebounds – Dubuque Wahlert 24 (Faley 8), Cedar Rapids Xavier 21 (Netolicky 6); Total fouls – Dubuque Wahlert 11, Cedar Rapids Xavier 14; Fouled out – None.