Defending champs end Wildcats' season
After avenging a four-point regular season loss to Holmen with a 59-38 victory in last Friday's WIAA regional semifinal in Holmen, the Wildcat boys' basketball team couldn't pull off a repeat performance against defending state champion and No. 1 ranked Onalaska Saturday.
Iowa State-bound Matt Thomas went off for 31 points for the Hilltoppers while no Wildcat scored in double figures and Onalaska ended the Cats' season with a 66-39 win.
After playing one of their best games of the season Friday night in Holmen, Wildcat head coach Greg Gaulke said the Cats came out flat Saturday at Onalaska and the Hilltoppers took advantage.
"We came out cold and Onalaska just came out hot," he said. "Thomas took it in his hands right away. We tried double teaming him and he'd kick it out to a non-scorer and he hit three threes. Then we got on him and he kicked it to another guy who hit a three. They had an answer for everything we threw at them, and that answer was shooting."
Onalaska jumped out to a 17-4 first quarter lead and led 36-20 at halftime on its way to the victory. The Hilltoppers defeated the Cats 57-48 during the regular season.
"We played a better second half but by then the game was out of hand," Gaulke said. "They are the state champs, and there's no doubt they can be state champs again. Like I told the boys, they beat us, but they've beaten everybody else too."
Luke Murphy, Brad Freeborn and Eric Wunrow scored eight points each to lead the Wildcats while Alex Call and Reed Blasius finished with six points each and Tanner Heinselman scored three. Freeborn led the team in rebounds with four.
"We didn't have an offensive rebound in the first half," Gaulke noted.
The night before the Cats showed plenty of energy in a 59-48 regional semifinal win at Holmen. The victory avenged a 59-55 loss to the Vikings during the regular season.
"That was one of our best games of the year as far as team play," Gaulke said. "It was physical, there were cuts and eye bruises; we had never beaten Holmen so to go down there and play the way we did just made me super proud. It was a three point game at half, nip and tuck. Then we played a nice second half with great emotion."
Four Wildcats scored in double figures in the win, led by Murphy with 20 points. Wunrow finished with 12 points and six rebounds and Freeborn had 12 points and four boards while Call chipped in 10 points. Heinselman contributed five points and a team-high seven assists.
The Cats wrapped up the regular season with a 61-47 victory over Eau Claire memorial last Tuesday. After trailing by one at the half, 27-26, the Cats took a 45-39 lead into the fourth quarter and pulled away down the stretch.
"Memorial played a great first half but we came out in the second half and took control," Gaulke said. "I was happy to get a win in our last game at home."
Murphy led River Falls with 25 points and Freeborn had 15 while Wunrow added 10. Call finished with five points and Heinselman scored four while Matt Mishek contributed two.
The Wildcats ended the season in third place in the Big Rivers Conference with a record of 7-5 and finished 15-8 overall.