By Paul Lecker
MARATHON – With the game and the season in the balance, the Auburndale boys basketball team stepped up huge.
Down six with 6 minutes to play, Auburndale used a 10-0 run to take the lead and held off a 3-point attempt at the buzzer to shock previously-undefeated Marathon 38-35 in a WIAA Division 4 boys basketball regional final Saturday night at a packed Marathon High School gymnasium.
Auburndale (17-7), which lost twice to Marathon (23-1) during the regular season, moves on to the Division 4 sectionals for the third-straight season and will play Crivitz (18-6) in a sectional semifinal at 7 p.m. Thursday at Antigo. The winner will play either Amherst (20-4) or Brillion (20-4) in a sectional final next Saturday at Appleton East.
“In order to beat a team like Marathon, or any team, you have to hustle and defense is the most important thing,” Auburndale senior guard Matt Nikolay said. “I told the guys, ‘Every loose ball is ours.’ I think in the second half we started turning the ball over a lot, but in the fourth quarter the guys started hustling and we did a really good job.”
Auburndale trailed 33-27 after a pair of baskets by Marathon’s Ethan Seubert with 5:56 to go.
Nikolay hit a pair of free throws and drilled his fourth 3-pointer of the game to close the gap to 33-32 with 4:03 to go.
Neither team scored for the next 2 minutes before Alex Marth put Auburndale up for good with a three-point play with 1:53 left.
Josh VanSchoick added a pair of free throws before Isaac Barber scored inside for Marathon with 29.8 seconds left, closing Auburndale’s lead to 37-35.
Tyler Weber made one of two free throws with 14.1 seconds left, giving Marathon a chance to tie. However, Seubert’s 3-point shot at the buzzer was long and the Apaches held on to win the regional title for third year in a row.
“Alex gave us the lead with a three-point play, Matt gets us back in it with some big shots…it wasn’t just one guy,” Auburndale coach Chad Weinfurter said. “Defensively, we rebounded and rebounded, I thought that was the key out of our zone. It’s hard to rebound out of the zone, especially against what I think is the best offensive-rebounding team we’ve play all year.
“We talked about it at halftime and how hard you have to compete in games like this. I thought that was the difference, how hard we competed. A lot of credit to our seniors, they’ve come a long way since that first game of the season.”
Auburndale led 14-13 after a wild first quarter. Nikolay and Marathon’s Xavier Lechleitner each hit a pair of 3-pointers in the quarter.
Play slowed a bit in the second quarter, with each team only attempting five shots and there were 11 total turnovers.
VanSchoick, who had 11 points for Auburndale, and Barber exchanged baskets and neither team scored over the final 2 minutes as the Apaches took a 22-21 lead into halftime.
Auburndale committed six turnovers in the third quarter and made only one basket, but stayed close with relentless pressure on the defensive end and trailed 27-25 going into the fourth. Marathon was just 2 of 11 in the quarter and it had no second-chance shots, which was a key for the Apaches.
“We made a little switch because Barber hurt us the first time with some 3s, so we put Alex (Marth) on him,” Weinfurter said. “(Preston) Wirkus is a real load inside driving the ball and we put Josh on him. I thought that really helped too.”
Nikolay had 17 points and five rebounds for the Apaches, who play eight seniors.
“We’re a real tight-knit group,” Nikolay said. “This just adds to our friendship. It means a lot.”
(Hub City Times Sports Reporter Paul Lecker is also the publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com.)
Apaches 38, Raiders 35
Auburndale 14 8 3 13 – 38
Marathon 13 8 6 8 – 35
AUBURNDALE (38): Jake Lewis 1-1 0-0 2, Matt Nikolay 5-11 3-4 17, Bryan Gehrke 0-1 0-0 0, Cooper Krings 0-1 0-0 0, Tyler Weber 0-0 1-2 1, Alex Marth 3-7 1-2 7, Matt Lang 0-0 0-0 0, Josh VanSchoick 4-5 2-4 11. FG: 13-26. FT: 7-12. 3-pointers: 5-9 (Nikolay 4-7, VanSchoick 1-1, Gehrke 0-1). Rebounds: 23 (VanSchoick 6). Turnovers: 17. Fouls: 7. Fouled out: none. Record: 17-7.
MARATHON (35): Xavier Lechleitner 3-6 0-0 9, Zac Rihn 2-10 0-2 9, Preston Wirkus 2-7 0-0 4, Ethan Seubert 2-11 0-0 4, Isaac Barber 4-6 1-3 9. FG: 13-40. FT: 1-5. 3-pointers: 6-19 (Lechleitner 3-6, Rihn 3-7, Seubert 0-5, Wirkus 0-1). Rebounds: 18 (Barber 6). Turnovers: 10. Fouls: 14. Fouled out: none. Record: 23-1.