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Double the fun: Falcons capture WIAC Tourney title

UW-River Falls sophomore Clay Seifert of Prescott (1) sails past three UW-La Crosse defenders for two of his seven points in the Falcons' 68-55 victory over the Eagles in a WIAC Tournament semifinal game last Thursday night, Feb. 23, at Karges Center. The Falcons went on t defeat UW-Oshkosh, 60-59, in Saturday night's championship game to clinch the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows)1 / 2
UW-River Falls junior Brennan Witt beats UW-La Crosse's Austin Fritz (34) for a reverse layup in the second half of the Falcons' WIAC Tournament semifinal game last Thursday, Feb. 23 at Karges Center. (River Falls Journal photo by Bob Burrows)2 / 2

UW-RIVER FALLS -- There will be at least one more weekend of basketball at UW-River Falls' venerable Karges Center.

The Falcon men made sure of that by beating UW-Oshkosh, 60-59, in the WIAC Tournament championship game Saturday to sweep the conference regular season and tournament crowns. UWRF's 24-3 record and No. 4 national ranking also earned it the right to host first and second round games of the NCAA Division III National Tournament at the 58 year-old Karges Center this weekend.

The Falcons will face WIAC co-champion Bethel (21-6) in a first round game Friday, March 3, at 8 p.m. Benedictine, Ill. (23-4) and Wartburg, Iowa (19-9) will square off in the first game at 5:30 p.m. The winners will face each other Saturday, March 4, at a time to be determined.

The Falcons, who swept the WIAC regular season and tournament championships this season for the first time in school history, are making their third appearance in the NCAA National Tournament and first since 2012.

Last Saturday's tournament title game against Oshkosh featured a 12-point comeback by the Falcons before the Titans missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer.

UWRF trailed 46-34 early in the second half before an 11-0 run cut it to one. Following a Titan jumper, junior Alex Herink of Hudson brought the crowd of 1,100 to its feet with a thunderous baseline dunk and Grant Erickson followed with a layup to put the Falcons up 49-48, with 8:36 remaining.

UWRF's lead grew to seven before the Titans came back to tie the score, 58-58, with four minutes left. Sophomore Clay Seifert of Prescott hit a jumper with 2:35 remaining for UWRF's last basket of the game but it was enough to pull out the win.

Oshkosh's Max Schebel split a pair of free throws to make it a one-point game, 60-59, with two minutes left.

The teams exchanged turnovers on the next two possessions and Titan Ben Boots was fouled with under a minute to play but missed both free throws. Following a Falcon miss at the other end, the Titans had one last chance but Boots' shot from the left wing was off the mark at the buzzer.

Senior Garret Pearson eclipsed the 1,000 point total for his career and led the Falcons with 12 points and 10 rebounds while junior Brennan Witt came off the bench to score 12 points. Herink finished with 11 points, four rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals.

The Falcons advanced to the WIAC Tournament title game with a 68-55 victory over UW-La Crosse in a semifinal game Thursday night.

Devin Buckley and Pearson hit back-to-back three-pointers to give UWRF a six-point lead with 3:38 remaining and the Falcons held the Eagles scoreless for the final 3:16 to earn the win.

UWRF led by just one, 24-23, at halftime and the lead changed hands 13 times in the second half before Buckley hit a three to put the Falcons up 56-53, with four minutes remaining.

After a missed free throw by La Crosse, Pearson drained a three from in front of his own bench to extend the Falcon lead to 59-53. The Eagles got a pair of free throws with 3:16 remaining to make it a four-point game, but a baseline drive by Erickson and a three-pointer by Witt pushed UWRF's lead to nine, 64-55, at the two minute mark.

La Crosse went 0-for-6 from the field the rest of the way while the Falcons went 2-for-3 from the line and got a layup from Seifert to make the final 68-55.

Pearson and Buckley finished with 13 points each while Witt contributed 12 points and 14 rebounds off the bench.

Pre-sale tickets for this weekend's NCAA Tournament will go on sale in the UWRF athletic office from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, and from 7:30 a.m. to noon Friday, March 3.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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