GLENWOOD, Iowa — Creston bloodied Sam Markham.
But the Panthers couldn't keep the Atlantic senior out for long. He returned shortly after to yank the life out of Creston's season.
Bleeding profusely after a late third-quarter collision, Markham returned 62 seconds later and scored 14 of his team-high 22 points after the accident to lead No. 2 Atlantic to a 68-48 Class 3-A boys district final basketball victory over No. 6 Creston on Friday at Glenwood High School.
“I just wanted to get back in as fast as possible and help my team,” said the 6-foot-1 Markham, sporting an open wound above his left eye after the game. “I tried to present some energy, and I came in and got into a rhythm real quick.”
With the win, Atlantic (22-1) moves into Monday's 7 p.m. substate final against Harlan (17-6) at Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln. The winner will advance to the state tournament in Des Moines.
No one in the gymnasium would have predicted the final margin after a first half in which neither team led by more than four. Six-foot-2 senior Luke Neitzel turned in a spectacular first half for the Panthers, scoring 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, include a hanging 18-footer at the buzzer which pulled his team within 29-28.
Atlantic coach Steve Blazek put Stuart Hoegh's bigger body on Neitzel in the second half, and Blazek praised his defensive effort after the intermission. Neitzel missed four of his five third-quarter shots and scored six after the intermission.
The key surge of the game came after Creston took a 32-30 lead at the 5:40 mark of the third on Briar Evans' basket. Harrison Hoegh started it with a basket and brother Stuart added two free throws. Markham scored off a Chad Christensen steal, and then Markham found Stuart Hoegh alone beyond the arc, and his 3 pushed the lead to 39-32 and marked the first time either team led by more than four.
Still up seven, Markham tumbled to the ground on a scramble under the basket. One of the Panthers landed on him, opening a gash above his eye. Assistant Trace Petersen covered it quickly and he returned at the 1:17 mark of the third. He buried a 15-footer with 33 seconds left in the period, completing the backbreaking 15-2 run that put the Trojans up 45-34. Markham's 17-footer with three seconds left kept Atlantic up 10 heading to the fourth.
Markham sank two free throws to start the fourth, and then scooped one in at the 7:28 mark while drawing a foul. His free throw extended the lead to 52-37, and Atlantic made 15 of 18 from the line in the fourth to break it open and complete the three-game season sweep.
“All credit to them,” Creston coach Billy Hiatt said. “Atlantic's a good team. They're well-coached, athletic. They're going to have a chance to make some noise.”
With basically the same team, Creston went from 9-13 to 19-4. The Panthers will lose seven of their top eight scorers, but Hiatt said the JV team lost only two or three games.
Markham said the Creston and Atlantic seniors have been competing fiercely in various sports since they were in grade school. He remembers them splitting in basketball in seventh grade, and said Neitzel “probably threw for 300 yards against us” that same year in football.
“It's just always been a close game,” he said before heading out, possibly to get stitches.
Creston (19-4) ................. 12 16 9 11—48
Atlantic (22-1) ................. 13 16 18 21—68
C: Trey Thomsen 1-4 0-0 3, Colby Taylor 2-7 1-1 6, Kainen Somers 1-2 0-1 2, Luke Neitzel 9-15 4-4 22, Briar Evans 7-8 0-0 15, Jay Wolfe 0-2 0-2 0, Ryan Cook 0-0 0-0 0, Caleb Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, Zach Powers 0-1 0-0 0, Cole Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, Bryce McIlravy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 20-39 5-8 48.
A: Sam Markham 8-14 6-7 22, Chad Christensen 3-7 0-1 7, Stuart Hoegh 2-4 6-6 12, Dalton Franken 5-11 8-8 19, Harrison Hoegh 1-1 1-2 3, Ben Nelson 0-1 0-0 0, Tristen Benn 0-0 0-0 0, Jared Fulk 2-3 0-1 4, Joey Walker 0-0 1-2 1, Brody Peterson 0-0 0-0 0, Nick Podhajsky 0-0 0-0 0, Adam Wieser 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-41 22-27 68.
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