By Paul Lecker
AUBURNDALE — The players on the Auburndale boys basketball team had never experienced two losses in a row until this season.
However, there was no need to worry about how the Apaches would react.
Auburndale used an 11-point advantage in the third quarter to bust open a tight game and down Stratford 48-35 in a Marawood Conference South Division matchup Tuesday night at Auburndale High School.
The win completes a season-sweep of Stratford for the Apaches, who have won two in a row after those two-straight losses. Auburndale is now 9-4 overall and 4-3 in the Marawood South. Stratford drops to 9-5 and 4-4 in the conference.
“This group isn’t as good, talent-wise, as we’ve had in the past,” Auburndale coach Chad Weinfurter said. “They’re really good kids. We just don’t have much height or not as many scorers, but they work hard and are coachable kids.
“After the loss to Amherst, last Wednesday at practice we just talked. We were at the midpoint of the season. We were 7-4 and had lost four close games. We just talked about getting better at what we were doing. The first half against Athens (on Jan. 22) was iffy, but in the second half we played extremely well, and tonight I thought we played really well.”
The score was tied 8-8 after a torrid first 3½ minutes, but both teams clamped down defensively and, conversely, struggled on the offensive end.
Each team managed just three baskets over the final 8½ minutes of the first half, and the Apaches led 18-16 at the break.
Auburndale senior guard Matt Nikolay took over in the third quarter, scoring 13 of his game-high 21 points in the period.
Nikolay scored nine Auburndale points in a row, which included a conventional three-point play and two 3-point baskets, to push the Apaches to a double-digit lead.
A 3-pointer by Bryan Gehrke just before the buzzer gave Auburndale a 39-26 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Stratford played without starter Derek Schmidt, and senior forward Michael Bargender missed most of the second quarter with an ankle injury that limited his effectiveness in the second half.
“They flat-out outran us,” Stratford coach Curt Schmidt said. “We don’t have the depth or the speed. We don’t have offensive pop. We’re better than what I expected. I felt that if we were healthy this game was a flip of the coin just like when we played them at our place and it came down to the end.”
Stratford got as close as 10 after a 3-pointer by Jake Reif but did not score again for nearly five minutes after that as Auburndale kept the Tigers at bay.
Reif, the Tigers’ top scorer at 17 points per game in conference play, was held to just eight points on 3 of 12 shooting.
“I thought we got stuck into some bad patterns and got caught in some pressure (in the first half), but I think it was execution on the kids’ part,” Weinfurter said. “They were able to make some baskets and take a breath and played with some more confidence in the second half.”
Auburndale plays at Wisconsin Rapids Assumption on Friday in search of redemption after losing to the Royals by one point earlier in the season at home. Stratford hosts Owen-Withee in a nonconference game on Friday.
(Hub City Times Sports Reporter Paul Lecker is also the publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com.)
Apaches 48, Tigers 35
Stratford 10 6 10 9 – 35
Auburndale 12 6 21 9 – 48
STRATFORD (35): Dawson Gebelein 5-10 2-4 12, Nick Stoflet 0-2 0-0 0, Michael Bargender 1-5 0-0 2, Cole Hoffman 0-1 0-0 0, Ethan Nagel 0-0 0-0 0, Jake Reif 3-12 0-0 8, Mitch Guralski 0-0 0-1 0, Jake Schmitt 5-11 1-3 12, Tanner Weinfurtner 0-1 1-2 1, Brenden Fecker 0-1 0-0 0. FG: 14-43. FT: 4-10. 3-pointers: 3-16 (Reif 2-8, Schmitt 1-2, Hoffman 0-1, Stoflet 0-2, Gebelein 0-2). Rebounds: 27 (Schmitt 9). Assists: 8 (Reif 2, Schmitt 2, Gebelein 2). Turnovers: 11. Fouls: 16. Fouled out: none. Record: 9-5, 4-4 Marawood Conference South Division.
AUBURNDALE (48): Jake Lewis 2-5 0-0 4, Matt Nikolay 8-15 1-2 21, Caleb Weinfurter 0-0 0-0 0, Collin Hawkins 0-0 0-0 0, Bryan Gehrke 1-2 0-1 3, Cooper Krings 1-5 1-2 4, Tyler Weber 0-1 0-0 0, Alex Marth 1-5 3-4 5, Matt Lang 0-3 0-0 0, Dylan Peplinski 1-1 0-0 2, Josh VanSchoick 4-5 1-1 9. FG: 18-42. FT: 6-9. 3-pointers: 6-16 (Nikolay 4-9, Gehrke 1-2, Krings 1-3, Lewis 0-2). Rebounds: 27 (Marth 9). Assists: 14 (Nikolay 5). Turnovers: 7. Fouls: 12. Fouled out: none. Record: 9-4, 4-3 Marawood Conference South Division.