Derek Isaak carried his team to the State 1B boys basketball championship. They reciprocated by hoisting him onto their shoulders for a ride to the locker room.
Isaak scored a tournament record 44 points and willed Almira/Coulee-Hartline to the State 1B championship with a comeback 62-58 win over Bi-County League foe Valley Christian.
It was a night that Isaak, the lone senior for the Warriors, was due for the defining career moment in his fourth state appearance.
Valley Christian was due for a complete game, but another third-quarter meltdown, something that had haunted the Panthers all during the tournament, proved too much to overcome.
The Panthers shot 56 percent and took a 12-point lead into the locker room, but in the third quarter Isaak scored 14 points, duplicating his first-half total, and the Warriors outscored Valley Christian 21-5 to make a game of it.
And Isaak was just getting warmed up. Quick and an exceptional leaper, he scored 16 more in the fourth quarter, including four 3-pointers, and hit four clutch free throws late, to hold off the Panthers’ fourth-quarter rush that reduced a 12-point deficit to two with 27 seconds left in the game.
When the game ended, Isaak was overcome by a flood of emotions, capped off by a group hug with his coach and dad, Scott, and brother Drew, a junior on the team.
When asked what his career scoring best was, Derek said, “That would be it. I don’t know what to think. This is the greatest feeling I’ve had in my whole life.”
Not that his game was perfect. His 3-point shot didn’t drop until late in the second quarter, and he was 6 for 13 overall.
The Panthers, meanwhile were hot from the outset, led by Craver Small who had 14 first-half points on his way to 24. They bolted to an 11-4 lead with a couple of 3-pointers and thwarted ACH’s comeback attempt from 11 down with two more 3-pointers in the second period for a 34-22 halftime lead..
That lead melted to six points before Isaak and Thunder Wellhausen combined for 15 straight points and seven-point lead.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to get fired from giving halftime speeches,” Valley Christian coach Chad Kimberley quipped.
Seriously, he lauded Isaak. “Derek’s a great ballplayer and he got hot. He’s a great ballplayer who won the game for them.”
It couldn’t have been more satisfying for Scott Isaak. He won his first state title in 10 tournament appearances as a girls and boys coach at ACH and watched his son put on a show.
“I’ve been waiting for it,” he said of finishing first. “I didn’t realize (Derek) had 44 points. Every good player plays and the kids feed off him.”
He told the Warriors that the Panthers would cool off and emphasized neutralizing their rebounding superiority in the second half. With Derek lighting it up, they got the job done and he became the second-highest scorer in 2B/1B history.
“I love that kid,” Scott said.