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400th win makes icing on the cake

Wildcat boys' basketball players surround head coach Greg Gaulke to present him with a cake in recognition of his 400th career victory after the Cats defeated Byron, Minn., 61-49, in the semifinals of the Red Wing Invitational Friday. Gaulke, now in his 25th at River Falls, guided the Cats to a perfect 3-0 opening week of the season that also included a 63-52 victory in the Red Wing tournament title game. <i>Submitted photo</i>

Just one week in, the Wildcat boys' basketball team has already made the 2012-13 season one for the record books.

After throttling Ellsworth, 94-47, in the season opener last Tuesday, the Cats earned head coach Greg Gaulke career victory No. 400 Friday, Nov. 30 with a 61-49 win over Byron, Minn. in the semifinals of the Red Wing Invitational. For good measure, they defeated the host Wingers, 63-52, Saturday, Dec. 1 to win their second Red Wing Invite title in three years and give Gaulke career victory No. 401.

Gaulke, in his 25th season at River Falls after coaching three years at Cumberland, said he feels blessed to reach the 400 career win mark.

"It's a marvelous goal to get, I was very emotional," he said. "You've got to be blessed with good people around you and good assistants and great fan support, and our high school is one of the top in the state at those things. It's wonderful and exciting to get."

Just as wonderful and exciting is the way the Wildcats have started the season. Junior Luke Murphy posted back-to-back 30-plus point games and senior Brad Freeborn had his first career double-double and is averaging double-digits in scoring while four different players scored at least ten points in Saturday's tournament title game in Red Wing.

"I can't say enough about how the boys are playing," Gaulke said. "All three games, as a coach, were exactly what you want to see."

The Cats gave Gaulke win No. 399 with a blowout victory last Tuesday against Ellsworth. River Falls was hot from the start, jumping out to a 24-8 first quarter lead and extending it to 53-18 at halftime before cruising to a 94-47 victory.

Murphy poured in a career-high 34 points and Freeborn added 25 points and 14 rebounds while senior Eric Wunrow had 10 points and seven boards and senior Tanner Heinselman had a team-high six assists and three steals.

The Cats led Byron by five, 27-22, in the opener of the Red Wing Invite Friday before pouring it on the second half for a 61-49 win.

For the second straight game Murphy posted a career-high in points with 39 while Freeborn contributed 14 points, eight rebounds and three steals. Wunrow and senior Alex Call rounded out the Wildcat scoring with four points each.

Saturday's tournament title game at Red Wing found the Wildcats trailing for the first time this season.

After jumping out to a 16-2 lead at the 10:52 mark of the first half the Cats' lead was down to three, 25-22, at the break. Red Wing took a 36-34 lead with 12:29 remaining in the game before ten lead changes over the next ten minutes resulted in the Cats' trailing 52-51 with two minutes remaining. River Falls closed the game on a 10-0 run to earn the 63-52 victory.

"Red Wing is a lot like us. They are an athletic club and they were playing at home," Gaulke said. "We had a nice lead and they took a three point lead with about six, seven minutes left. But our defense just toughened up and they didn't score the last two minutes and we took the lead on free throws and good defense."

Murphy led the way with 20 points and pulled down six rebounds while Freeborn finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five steals. Call contributed 15 points, including ten in the second half, while Wunrow scored six of his ten points after intermission and pulled down five rebounds.

After opening Big Rivers Conference play at Menomonie this past Tuesday, the Cats will host defending BRC champion Rice Lake this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the high school.

Gaulke said he likes his team's chances.

The skills are there," he said. "We've got good leadership, we're a physical team, all the components are there. We just have to keep working together."

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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