THE DOGS ARE BACK: Lake Mills survives Remsen, advances to state tournament

This one wasn’t like the rest, but nonetheless, Lake Mills beats Remsen St. Mary’s to advance to its fourth state tournament in five years.

After falling short last year in Class 2A, Lake Mills was back in 1A this year, where they went to three straight state tournaments from 2020 to 2022. The senior-led Bulldogs were determined to avenge last year’s heartbreaking substate final loss to MFL – something senior Lance Helming says they’ve been thinking about since last year.

This one was a bit tougher than the previous three in 1A, surviving a second-half push and a last-second three-pointer from St. Mary’s junior star Collin Homan. The 6’6″ power forward led all scorers with 16 points, including four buckets in the paint during the second half.

Lake Mills opened the game on a 12-3 run after St. Mary’s led one to zero to start the game. The Bulldogs’ opening charge was fueled by newcomer Jackson Gaul, who had seven of his ten points in the opening frame. Gaul became eligible in early January and has been one of the state’s best passers since joining the Bulldogs. The junior came into tonight’s game with 123 assists in just 14 games for Lake Mills.

Remsen St. Mary’s outscored Lake Mills 10-8 in the second quarter and had the pace of the game right where they wanted heading to halftime. Maybe a little closer, trailing 20-13, but it was a defensive battle – their path to victory.

St. Mary’s started the third quarter on a 6-2 run, but Lake Mills finished the third frame 9-4, and the Bulldogs led 31-23 heading to the final eight minutes.

St. Mary’s cut the lead to 39-38 and attempted a three-point basket that was no good. But after two missed Lake Mills free throws – St. Mary’s was again in business. Following the quick timeout by the Hawks and all eyes on Homan – Landon Waldschmitt’s throw missed the shot, and the ball went off his leg – giving Lake Mills the ball back with less than four seconds on the clock. Before the Bulldogs could inbound the basketball, Remsen fouled Lake Mills senior Eli Menke, who makes 85.9 percent of his free and didn’t disappoint on the biggest stage. Following Menke’s two makes, the Bulldogs couldn’t lose in regulation unless a rare four-point play was converted. St. Mary’s had no timeouts left and heaved the ball to Homan, who turned and had a game-tying shot halfway down before it popped back out, and Lake Mills stormed the court in victory.

For the Bulldogs, it was an emotional ending to the evening as tears of joy replaced the anxiety of the past. Through all the uncertainty of the past year for the Lake Mills basketball team, one thing is now certain: The Bulldogs are dancin’ and three games from the ultimate prize – a Class 1A state title.

It is Lake Mills’ sixth trip to state in school history and the fourth under Kyle Menke. Menke secured his 395th career win, which puts me past Bob Horner on the all-time wins list. Horner, of course, led Lake Mills to its second tournament appearance in 1986 before leading Mason City to a handful of trips over two decades.

The Bulldogs should be a top-4 seed in Des Moines the week after next and will wait for their opponent. Lake Mills is 1-5 all-time in the state tournament, with that lone winning coming over Danville on their last trip in 2022. It was a tournament that ended heartbreakingly for Grandview Christian. The Thunder aren’t a worry this year, as they compete in Class 2A now, but the national coach of the year candidate, Mike Hilmer, and North Linn are back in the 1A tournament as the top seed.


Lake Mills moves up to the third overall seed after Madrid went down to Woodbine. With two unranked teams in the tournament, North Union moves up from #8 to #6, and the Warriors and Bulldogs will meet for a third time this year – this time in Des Moines.




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