By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
MELROSE — It’s been a growing process for the Fort Sumner boys basketball team to accept a new system
First-year Foxes coach Wes Weems said the pressing, uptempo game he installed didn’t really come together for his young squad until the last five games in the season.
On Friday, the Foxes nearly pulled off a big upset in a Class 1A regional semifinal against 2004 state runnerup Des Moines.
But Des Moines rallied from a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit to squeak out a 65-62 win that earned the second-ranked Demons a trip to the state tournament while ending Fort Sumner’s season.
The regional battle featured Weems facing his former coach, Des Moines’ Dwayne Kibbe, who coached Weems while building Floyd into a 1A power in the 1970s and 80s.
Kibbe’s smallish Demons (26-2) have been known to favor an uptempo game the past two seasons.
But Weems turned the tables on his old coach by having Fort Sumner employ a full-court press defensively. The ploy was effective as Des Moines coughed up 26 turnovers and fell behind by as many as 10 points early in the fourth quarter.
“He was probably more well-prepared for us than anyone we’ve played all year long,” Kibbe said of his former player.
“He took everything away from us. You know, we never did get into an offensive rhythm — never.”
Derek Dimitroff scored 17 points and Jeremy Gauna added 15, but the Foxes (20-11) were unable to hold onto their double-digit lead. Des Moines junior Ben Doherty, a 5-foot-8 jumping jack, registered 32 points and gobbled up 20 rebounds and the Demons — behind Doherty’s leadership‚ reeled off 13 straight points in the fourth quarter to claim the advantage.
Victory wasn’t secure for Des Moines, however, until Jess Price hit a free throw with eight seconds remaining and Fort Sumner’s Matt Sena was stripped of the ball while trying to get free for a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.
After the game, Weems talked about coaching on the opposite bench from Kibbe.
“It really was kind of a weird feeling. Not only was he my coach, but he was also my mentor when I started coaching and moved to Texas. Coaching against him, I’ve always wondered, ‘Could I do it?’” said Weems, won played on Floyd’s back-to-back state title teams in 1986 and 1987. “I feel like, if nothing else, it proved he taught me well when I played for him.”