Jake Mohling was a Humboldt middle school student when he saw the Wildcats reach the state basketball tournament.
Now, 12 years later, Mohling has the Wildcat boys on the doorstep of ending that drought.
Humboldt used a strong second half to claim a Class 3A district title Thursday night over Gilbert, 63-43, inside the Dodger gym.
The Wildcats (15-7 overall) will face No. 8 Carroll (18-4) on Monday night in Ames. Tip is set for 7 p.m. The Tigers defeated Ballard, 72-50, to advance.
Jaxon Heinz scored a game-high 29 points to lead Humboldt, adding 10 rebounds, four steals, two assists and a blocked shot in front of Iowa State men's basketball coach Fred Hoiberg, who was on hand watching his son, Jack, a freshman for the Tigers (13-10).
"I am just so proud of these kids," said Mohling, who is in his first season directing Humboldt. "This was a game of runs, and we had our fair share of them, but in the end, we were the stronger team."
HUMBOLDT 63, GILBERT 43
Humboldt - Nick Heider 2-5 2-2 7, Jaxon Heinz 12-21 2-2 29, Jack Curran 4-8 0-1 8, Austin Zylstra 3-7 2-2 9, Brady Ross 3-7 0-0 6, Kenny Kuyper 0-0 2-2 2, Dillon Fevold 1-3 0-0 2, Geoffrey Bruder 0-0 0-0 0, Alex Nelson 0-0 0-0 0, Christian Birdsell 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas Orness 0-1 0-0 0, Jonah Haselhuhn 0-0 0-0 0, Will Pogge 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 25-52 8-9 63.
Gilbert - Wesley Greder 3-8 0-0 8, Dax Hatfield 1-2 2-2 4, Ryan Blum 4-8 0-0 10, Jack Hoiberg 4-12 2-5 12, Jared Gescheidler 1-6 3-4 5, Adam Baker 2-3 0-0 4, Jackson Wieland 0-0 0-0 0, Chris Culek 0-0 0-0 0, Noah Haverdink 0-0 0-0 0, Zach Swailes 0-1 0-0 0, Sam Jamison 0-0 0-1 0, Ethan Weis 0-0 0-0 0, Garrett Von Walden 0-0 0-0 0, David Nelson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 15-40 7-12 43.
Quarter scores: Humboldt led 18-13, 29-26, 44-34. Three-point goals: Humboldt 5-14 (Heider 1-2, Heinz 3-7, Zylstra 1-3, Fevold 0-1, Orness 0-1); Gilbert 6-21 (Greder 2-6, Hatfield 0-1, Blum 2-5, Hoiberg 2-6, Gescheidler 0-3). Total rebounds: Humboldt 33, Gilbert 22. Steals: Humboldt 9, Gilbert 3. Blocked shots: Humboldt 1, Gilbert 1. Turnovers: Humboldt 11, Gilbert 15. Points off turnovers: Humboldt 10, Gilbert 6. Team fouls: Humboldt 12, Gilbert 9. Technical foul: Gilbert bench.
Mohling credited the numerous battles throughout the regular season against North Central Conference rivals Clear Lake, St. Edmond, Algona and others as preparing the Wildcats for the postseason journey.
"I wasn't sure at the beginning of the year how tough our conference would be," Mohling said. "But once we got into it, I knew we would be battle-tested. You go up against an athletic team like Clear Lake, or a strong individual player like (St. Edmond's) Robby Burke, and you find out what your team is made of."
Heinz stole the show in the opening first half, giving the large contingent of Humboldt supporters something to cheer about often by scoring 18 points. He was 8 of 14 from the field, including two three-pointers, as the Wildcats raced out to a 27-16 lead at one point.
Gilbert, though, battled back thanks to a 10-0 run near the end of the second quarter to cut the deficit to 29-26. The Tigers eventually took the lead in the third before Humboldt answered.
With Heinz on the bench due to foul trouble, Nick Heider, Jack Curran, Austin Zylstra, Brady Ross and Dillon Fevold all stepped up with points after the break. Heider had five in the third, while Ross scored four as Humboldt pieced together a 17-2 burst that provided them a double-digit lead they would never surrender.
"I was so impressed with how our kids did that (with Heinz on the bench)," Mohling said. "A lot of people will look at the box score and see Jaxon's 29 points and not much else, but each one of those baskets was important.
"And we also did those little things that don't show up in the box score. I was just so impressed with how we played that third quarter."
Heinz recovered from his scoreless third to post 11 in the final eight minutes, going a perfect 4-for-4 from the field and 2-for-2 at the line.
"Jaxon has all three levels of scoring," Mohling said. "He can shoot the three, he has a great jumper and he can drive to the basket. We didn't see one team or player this year that could stop him one-on-one.
"His abilities on the offensive end are just incredible."
Zylstra finished with nine points, while Curran had eight and six rebounds. Heider tallied seven points and five boards.
Hoiberg, who entered the starting lineup last month and helped Gilbert post an 8-2 record down the stretch, led the way with 12 points. Ryan Blum, a sophomore, added 10.
The Wildcats will be seeking their seventh appearance at state Monday night, while Carroll has qualified 11 times.