Stratford moves on to sectional semifinal matchup with Neillsville on Thursday at D.C. Everest
By Paul Lecker
AUBURNDALE — When conference teams battle in the playoffs, playing for the third time in a season, crazy things can happen.
The WIAA Division 4 boys basketball regional final between Marawood Conference South Division rivals Auburndale and Stratford was just that: crazy.
Stratford overcame a nine-point deficit in the final three minutes of regulation to force overtime and held the Apaches without a field goal during a pair of four-minute overtimes to upend Auburndale 72-63 on Saturday night at Auburndale High School. The Tigers outscored Auburndale 21-3 over the final 11 minutes of the game.
Stratford, which had lost to Auburndale twice during the conference season, moves on to the sectional round for the first time since 2012. The seventh-seeded Tigers (17-8) will play No. 5 seed Neillsville (17-8) in a sectional semifinal Thursday at D.C. Everest. Neillsville upset the top seed in its half of the sectional, Marathon, 58-57 on Saturday night.
“They are relentless. They are unbelievable,” Stratford coach Curt Schmidt said of his team. “They keep going. I wasn’t excited about our defense early. Our defense has been tremendous, but we didn’t stop their penetration early. They were able to recover somehow and were able to make some big shots. I couldn’t be more proud of the kids and their effort.”
Auburndale led 18-7 early after a 10-0 run that included a 3-pointer from Colton Wright and a three-point play by Cameron Ertl.
Stratford fought back with a 10-0 run of its own, capped by a three-point play from senior Cole Hoffman, who had 11 points for the Tigers.
The comeback was the first of many by the Tigers, who trailed by seven again before rallying to tie the game at 26-26 at the break as Hoffman hit three of four free throws in the final two minutes of the half, and Stratford held Auburndale scoreless.
Collin Hawkins hit a pair of shots to help Auburndale build a 34-26 lead to start the second half only to see Stratford claw back in it again.
Two 3-pointers by Brenden Fecker, who had 20 points, bookmarked a 9-2 run that tied the game at 42-42 for the Tigers with 7:44 to go.
Auburndale again pushed ahead as Caleb Weinfurter, who led Auburndale with 19 points, hit a pair of deep 3-pointers — a good 5 to 8 feet behind the arc — to put the Apaches up 56-47 with 3:02 remaining. Auburndale would not score another basket from the field in the game.
Fecker, Hoffman, and Trent Heckel hit 3-pointers for Stratford to knot the score once again. Auburndale ran down the final 1:17 of the game before Weinfurter’s 3-pointer at the buzzer missed to send the game to overtime.
“It’s just our guys believing in each other,” Hoffman said. “We knew we had it in us to make a comeback. We have guys that can make shots, and they did.
“I think we can go farther than sectionals. We have a good shot, have a good team, and are firing on all cylinders right now. We’re a dangerous team right now, and I think we can go farther.”
Each team scored four points in the first OT, but Auburndale’s cold shooting finally caught up to them in the second extra frame as Stratford outscored the Apaches 12-3.
“I didn’t think we were real disciplined on offense,” Auburndale coach Chad Weinfurter said. “It’s uncommon for them (Stratford) to make so many 3s (9 of 23), and a lot of it came down to our defensive miscues, which we hadn’t gotten by with in a few games. In this game we weren’t good enough offensively to overcome some of our defensive stuff.”
After a free throw from Hawkins, Stratford made 8 of 12 at the line in the last two minutes to close out the win as Auburndale was 0-for-9 from the floor.
Stratford freshman Vaughn Breit was 5 of 6 on free throws in the last 25 seconds and finished with 24 points and 17 rebounds in the victory.
“They hit some big shots, some monster shots from Caleb, and to bounce back from that is a tribute to the toughness of our kids,” Schmidt said. “We missed some free throws at the end, but then we got some stops and hit some free throws to clinch the deal.”
(Hub City Times Sports Reporter Paul Lecker is also the publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com.)
Tigers 72, Apaches 63 (2 OT)
Stratford 26 30 4 12 – 72
Auburndale 26 30 4 3 – 63
STRATFORD (72): Brenden Fecker 6-13 4-5 20, Cole Hoffmann 2-4 7-10 11, Okley Wrensch 0-2 0-0 0, Paul Huther 0-1 0-0 0, Trent Heckel 5-7 0-0 12, Vaughn Breit 6-14 9-10 24, Lance Heidmann 0-1 0-0 0, Jacob Danen 1-1 3-4 5. FG: 20-43. FT: 23-29. 3-pointers: 9-23 (Fecker 4-10, Breit 3-5, Heckel 2-4, Heidmann 0-1, Wrensch 0-1, Hoffmann 0-2). Rebounds: 27 (Breit 17). Assists: 12 (Heckel 3, Fecker 3). Turnovers: 8. Fouls: 16. Fouled out: none. Record:17-8.
AUBURNDALE (63): Cooper Weinfurter 1-3 2-2 4, Luke Olsen 2-8 8-8 12, Logan Willfahrt 0-0 0-0 0, Cason Schmutzer 2-3 0-0 4, Caleb Weinfurter 8-15 0-0 19, Collin Hawkins 4-8 3-4 11, Colten Yeske 0-0 0-0 0, Cameron Ertl 2-4 3-3 7, Cale Jacoby 0-1 0-0 0, Colton Wright 2-7 0-2 6. FG: 21-49. FT: 16-19. 3-pointers: 5-23 (Ca. Weinfurter 3-9, Wright 2-5, Schmutzer 0-1, Co. Weinfurter 0-2, Ertl 0-2, Olsen 0-4). Rebounds: 21 (Ca. Weinfurter 6, Hawkins 6). Assists: 11 (Wright 3). Turnovers: 5. Fouls: 21. Fouled out: Jacoby, Olsen. Record: 17-8.
(CORRECTION: When posted originally, the article misstated Stratford coach Chad Schmidt’s intention when he said, “They are relentless. They are unbelievable.” He was speaking of the Stratford Tigers, not the Auburndale Apaches. The article has been edited to reflect that change.)