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Cats can't climb out of early hole

Wildcat junior Jack Herum goes up for a reverse layup between three Antigo defenders in the Cats' sectional final against the top-seeded Red Robins Saturday night in Antigo. River Falls couldn't recover from a slow start and saw its season come to an end with a 56-44 loss. Laura Harvey, Antigo Daily Journal, photo

Nothing went right for the Wildcat boys' basketball team in the first six minutes of its sectional final at Antigo March 6. By the time River Falls righted the ship they found themselves trailing the top-seeded Red Robins 14-0.

The Cats outscored Antigo by two points the rest of the way, but the early deficit proved too large to overcome and Antigo went on to a 12-point win, 56-44.

"We just couldn't get things going," head coach Greg Gaulke said about the beginning of the game. "We couldn't hit a shot, we turned the ball over, we got in early foul trouble. All the things you don't want to see. We started slowly chipping away but we just couldn't recover."

By the end of the first quarter Antigo had built a 16-1 lead. They led 27-8 at halftime before Wildcat junior Jack Herum opened the second half with a dunk that made the score 27-10. Antigo went on to build its biggest lead of the game, 34-11, midway through the third before the Cats closed the quarter with an 11-3 run that made the score 37-22 at the end of three. The closest the Wildcats could get in the final eight minutes was within 11 when a three-pointer by Marty Herum made the score 50-39 with 1:54 remaining. But Antigo responded with a 6-0 run to put the game out of reach.

"They're a good team," Gaulke said. "They're the No. 1 seed in the bracket, they're undefeated, and they've got a premier guard in (Jordan) Mach. We got to within about 14 in the second half but Mach took over."

Mach, who entered the game averaging just over 29 points per game, finished with 31 to lead the Red Robins.

Jack Herum led the Wildcats with 12 points and eight rebounds while Zach Pavlichek finished with 11 points and Marty Herum contributed 10 points, seven rebounds and a team-high four steals.

The Cats reached the sectional semifinal by coming from behind to defeat D.C. Everest, 40-33, in the regional championship game last Tuesday in River Falls.

River Falls went on a 15-2 run in the final six minutes to erase a 31-25 deficit.

D.C. Everest scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to snap a 25-25 tie and take a six point lead, 31-25. River Falls forced turnovers on the Evergreens next three possessions that all resulted in baskets by Pavlichek. A Pavlichek free throw with 1:51 remaining gave the Wildcats the lead for good, 32-31, with 1:51 remaining.

River Falls went on to hit 7-of-8 free throws to extend their lead to 39-31 before D.C. Everest scored its' final points on a tip-in with 14.5 seconds left.

"We fell into playing their style," Gaulke said about the Evergreens' slow, methodical approach to the game. "Finally in the fourth quarter we took a time out and I told the boys look, this is your season right here. We had to pick it up somehow and we picked it up on the defensive end and went with all-out traps. We forced three or four turnovers in a row and the momentum just switched and we sealed it at the end with free throws."

Pavlichek led the Wildcats with 16 points while Jack Herum, Marty Herum and Zane Heinselman contributed six points each.

Gaulke said he was very pleased with the Wildcats' 18-6 season.

"I can't say enough about the season," he said. "These seniors finish their careers with back-to-back regional championships. I thought the boys played above and beyond and we had some big wins. To finish 18-6 after losing your top three scorers from the year before to graduation says a lot."

The Wildcat basketball banquet for all players in grades 9-12 will be held Tuesday, March 23, at 6 p.m. in the high school commons.

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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