River Falls wins BRC boys' hoops titleEmotions were high Friday, Feb. 11 at the high school gym when the Wildcat boys’ basketball team took on Menomonie. It was senior night, in front of a packed house with a share of the Big Rivers Conference on the line. And despite Menomonie’s best efforts to spoil the night, the Cats came away with a 55-47 victory to win their first conference title since the 2004-05 season.
By: Bob Burrows - River Falls Journal, Pierce County Herald
RIVER FALLS - Emotions were high Friday, Feb. 11 at the high school gym when the Wildcat boys’ basketball team took on Menomonie. It was senior night, in front of a packed house with a share of the Big Rivers Conference on the line. And despite Menomonie’s best efforts to spoil the night, the Cats came away with a 55-47 victory to win their first conference title since the 2004-05 season.
The Wildcats can win the title outright by beating Rice Lake on the road Feb. 18. River Falls enters the game with a BRC record of 10-1 (13-5 overall) while the Warriors are in second at 8-2 (14-6 overall). The Cats defeated Rice Lake in their previous meeting, 52-45, in River Falls.
Menomonie entered the Feb. 11 game 1-8 in the BRC (2-17) overall, but you wouldn’t know it after it took a 10-6 first quarter lead. The Wildcats settled down and went up 27-21 at halftime but River Falls never led by more than eight until the final two minutes.
“It did not come easy,” Wildcat coach Greg Gaulke said. “I think there was a lot of emotion. Menomonie played a good game, they had nothing to lose, and our boys played hard. But I think with senior night, and knowing they could wrap up the conference championship, their emotions were high.”
River Falls trailed until the 5:15 mark of the second period when Colin Pechacek drilled a three-pointer to tie the score, 14-14. Ninety seconds later a Pechacek layup gave the Cats the lead for good, 18-16.
After widening the gap to six at halftime, the Indians pulled to within two, 36-34, with 1:30 remaining in the third period. A basket by Zane Heinselman in the final minute gave River Falls a 38-34 lead after three.
Heinselman hit Brad Freeborn for an easy bucket to start the fourth quarter but Menomonie wouldn’t go away and cut the lead back to two with five minutes remaining. That’s as close as they would get, however, as Wunrow scored on a strong move inside and Jack Herum followed with a put-back to make it a six-point game, 48-42, with three minutes remaining.
Two Heinselman free throws and a Nick Zimmerman follow gave the Cats their biggest lead of the game, 52-42, with 1:45 to play.
“It was great to have Nick Zimmerman back,” Gaulke said about the senior, who has missed the last few weeks due to illness. “He provides a lot of energy and means so much to our defense.”
After Menomonie took its earl lead, the Cats instituted a full-court press in the second quarter that Gaulke said turned the tide.
“That got the tempo up, which is god for us,” he said. “Defense keeps us in games, there’s no denying it.”
Heinselman finished with 14 points and Pechacek added 12 to lead the Wildcats. Herum chipped in with nine while Zimmerman, Freeborn, Wunrow and J.P. Feyereisen added four each. Lucas Weiss hit a three-pointer while Justin Pittman had a free throw.
Earlier in the week the Cats dropped a 77-59 nonconference decision at Woodbury, Minn.
“We scheduled them and we will continue to schedule them, but we’re not yet at that level of what I call inner-city ball,” Gaulke said. “They are physically tough and a lot of them play year-round. They don’t have the three-sport athletes that we have, and I like. It’s a different level. We will get there but we’re not there yet.”
Woodbury hit five three-pointers in the game, including two in the third quarter to break the game open.
“We made a nice run and tied it, 50-50, in the third quarter but they came down and hit two threes and a put-back and suddenly we’re down eight again,” Gaulke noted.
Herum led River Falls with 18 points and Pechacek added 16 while Feyereisen finished with nine. Wunrow contributed seven points in the loss and Aaron Avestruz scored five while Freeborn and Jake Knotek scored two apiece.