COUNCIL BLUFFS — Red Oak senior Tanner Johnson’s prayers were answered.
The forward hit three foul shots in the fourth quarter as a free throw parade gave Red Oak an eight-point lead and then it hung on for a 58-56 win over Council Bluffs St. Albert on Tuesday.
“I was just praying to God it went in,” said Johnson, who tied for the team lead with 13 points. “The ball went in, and the score went up.”
The Tigers needed all of those points to survive a cold stretch from the line that reduced the lead to one and a late 3-point try by the Falcons to win the Class 2-A District 15 final.
With the win, the Tigers (15-8) advance to the Substate 8 final — with a berth to state on the line — Saturday night in Harlan.
Red Oak entered the fourth quarter with a four-point lead, and the Tigers hit their first 12 shots from the free throw line in the quarter to keep the Falcons at bay.
But St. Albert’s high-paced offense, led by senior Alex Rindone’s 20 points, kept the Falcons in the game.
St. Albert coach Dale Scott said his team’s gameplan was to play aggressively on both sides of the ball. But a number of fouls kept the Falcons playing from behind.
In preparation for the Falcons’ pressure, first-year Red Oak coach Bryan White said, his team practiced against seven or eight players on defense.
“We know the pressure St. Albert puts on,” White said. “You can’t simulate that with five guys.”
The Falcons aimed to wear down Red Oak’s six-man rotation with pressure — and fatigue appeared to become a factor in the second half.
“We wanted to play fast, and we knew their bench wasn’t very deep,” Rindone said.
Six Falcon fouls in the first few minutes of the third quarter, however, provided Red Oak plenty of time to regroup and recover while shooting free throws.
Although Rindone’s 3-pointer gave the Falcons a 40-39 lead with less than seven minutes to play, the Tigers responded with more successful foul shots.
“We had our chances there, but Red Oak made a lot of free throws in the fourth,” Scott said, “and that limited our options by putting us in a hole.”
But the well went dry for Red Oak later in the period.
After hitting their first 12 foul shots, the Tigers missed the next seven, which allowed St. Albert to close the gap to 57-56 with 10 seconds left.
Junior Tucker Culjat, who finished with 11 points, rolled off a screen and fired a 3-pointer, but his shot was well off the mark. St. Albert, which qualified for the state tournament last season, ends its year at 11-10.
For Red Oak, which finished 5-17 last season and previously had only one winning season since 2000, the win represented a remarkable turnaround in Montgomery County.
Next up for the Tigers is Carroll Kuemper (15-8), which beat IKM-Manning in Tuesday night’s District 16 final. Red Oak beat the Knights 63-50 on Jan. 8.
“I know they’re going to be ready for us,” White said. “To have an opportunity to play at state is a dream.”
Not only were Johnson’s prayers answered, but his dreams also came true on the hardwood at A.L. Tuesday night.
“It’s amazing, I can’t even explain it,” he said. “One more game – we’ve never been here before.”
CB St. Albert (11-10).......13 11 11 21—56
Red Oak (15-8)...................18 6 15 19—58
CBSA: Connor Moran 14, Alex Rindone 20, Tucker Culjat 11, Ryan Wettengel 2, Jake Avey 3, John McGinn 3, Trey Bowman 3.
RO: Pete Walker 13, Jose Perez 7, Jordan Nelson 9, Ryan Leininger 11, Brandon Birt 5, Tanner Johnson 13.