By Paul Lecker
MARSHFIELD – Marshfield Columbus Catholic was flying high in the first half of its WIAA Division 5 boys basketball regional final against Almond-Bancroft on Saturday night.
The Dons built a 20-point lead with an impressive run, but Almond-Bancroft chipped away and chipped away to make a game of it and in the end pulled out a miraculous 58-55 victory at Columbus Catholic High School.
Freshman Noah Kollock made two 3-pointers in the closing minutes, including one with 8 seconds to go, to lift the Eagles (23-2) to the victory.
Almond-Bancroft moves on to a Division 5 sectional semifinal against Pittsville (19-7) on Thursday at Stevens Point Area Senior High. The winner takes on either Green Bay NEW Lutheran (11-14) or Suring (15-10) in a sectional final at D.C. Everest on March 12.
“I thought we played well today, but it was the little things that were really magnified,” Columbus Catholic coach Joe Konieczny said. “We left 10 or 12 points on the floor with missed layups, left five or six on the floor with missed free throws, and now you lose by three. Lessons learned, hopefully.”
The Dons missed a couple of point-blank shots early and fell behind 9-2 in the opening 4½ minutes. Then, Columbus went on a run that made them look unbeatable.
Hunter Schultz and Tyler Fuerlinger each scored five points in an 11-0 run, and after a free throw by Almond-Bancroft, Columbus scored 10 more in a row to open up a 25-10 lead.
Schultz, who had a game-high 20 points, had consecutive drives to the hoop for lay-ins and Nick Malovrh drilled a 3-pointer to cap a 32-5 run that put the Dons on top 34-14 with 3:19 to go in the half.
“We played up tempo and hit some shots,” Konieczny said. “Our effort shouldn’t change just because we weren’t shooting the ball well (early).”
After a timeout, the Eagles were able to regroup and take advantage of the Dons’ foul trouble that sent starters Evan Nikolai and Billy Young to the bench.
A-B used a 9-0 run to make it a 36-23 game at halftime.
“The stretch that hurt us was (three) minutes of the first half when we had built a lead and we had foul trouble,” Konieczny said. “We put Evan and Billy on the bench for the last few minutes thinking we could get those guys back and be OK, but we gave up a run in that stretch and the momentum kind of swung.”
That momentum carried into the second half for the Eagles, who went on a 16-6 run over the first 7 minutes to claw back to within three at 42-39 after a 3-pointer and free throw by Austin Bunders and a steal and layup by Austin Richtmyre.
The Dons clung to the lead until Garett Yonke scored with 6:47 to go to give Almond-Bancroft a one-point advantage at 47-46.
Columbus didn’t make a basket from the field for more than 6 minutes and went only 5 of 8 at the free throw line as the lead switched sides three more times.
A basket by Fuerlinger with 2:05 to go was the Dons’ last and put them up 53-52.
Kollock’s first three gave the Eagles the lead before Matthias Gouin made two free throws with 1:26 left to tie it at 55-55.
Almond-Bancroft ran down the clock without turning it over, calling a timeout with 21.5 seconds left to set up its final strategy. Kollock found himself open at the top of the key and drilled another 3-pointer with 8 seconds to go.
The Dons called timeout and got the ball into the hands of Nikolai, but the senior missed on a 3-point attempt and Austin Bunders rebounded to end the game.
“I thought we missed some defensive assignments, but give them (A-B) credit,” Konieczny said. “As scrambled as we were, and as chaotic as our substitutions were with foul trouble, they hit some big shots and their kids did well down the stretch.”
Columbus graduates four seniors – Young, Gouin, Brett Loveland and Nikolai – a group that won 76 games over the past three years, including a Cloverbelt Conference East Division title this season.
“They’re as good of a group of people as I’ve ever been around,” Konieczny said. “I’ve been proud and happy to spend every day with them. They will be sorely missed.”
(Hub City Times Sports Reporter Paul Lecker is also the publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com.)
Eagles 58, Dons 55
Almond-Bancroft 23 35 – 58
Columbus Catholic 36 19 – 55
ALMOND-BANCROFT (58): Wyatt Richtmyre 5-8 2-2 12, Dylan Bunders 4-10 6-9 15, Johl Turzinski 0-0 0-1 0, Austin Bunders 3-5 1-2 8, Noah Kollock 4-7 1-2 8, Garett Yonke 4-7 2-2 10, Allan Zinda 0-1 0-0 0, Derek Baumgartner 1-1 0-2 2, Jordan Kealiher 0-0 0-0 0. FG: 21-39. FT: 12-20. 3-pointers: 4-11 (Kollock 2-4, A. Bunders 1-2, D. Bunders 1-4, Zinda 0-1). Rebounds: 29 (D. Bunders 10). Turnovers: 17. Fouls: 21. Fouled out: none. Record: 23-2.
COLUMBUS CATHOLIC (55): Billy Young 1-1 0-1 2, Matthias Gouin 0-0 2-2 2, Nick Malovrh 2-5 4-4 10, Evan Nikolai 0-4 5-7 5, Hunter Schultz 9-17 1-2 20, Tyler Fuerlinger 5-10 3-4 14, Brett Loveland 0-1 2-2 2, Charles Payant 0-1 0-0 0. FG: 17-39. FT: 17-22. 3-pointers: 4-11 (Malovrh 2-4, Schultz 1-4, Fuerlinger 1-1, Nikolai 0-2). Rebounds: 17 (Fuerlinger 7). Turnovers: 11. Fouls: 20. Fouled out: Young. Record: 21-4.