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Cats' OT win over rivals creates instant classic

Wildcat senior Tanner Heinselman (10) heads to the basket after stealing the ball from Hudson's Dan Kelly at midcourt in the second half of the Cats' Big Rivers Conference game in Hudson Friday night. Heinselman's steal and layup cut the Raider lead to three, 28-25, early in the fourth quarter. <i>Bob Burrows photos</i>1 / 2
Wildcat junior Luke Murphy tries to get past Hudson's Dan Kelly in the second half of the Cats' 52-43 overtime victory over the Raiders last Friday in Hudson. Murphy led the Wildcats with 15 points.2 / 2

The Wildcat boys' basketball team scored just four points in the first half Friday, Feb. 15 in Hudson and trailed 17-4 before storming back to win in overtime, 52-43.

"That was one of my all-time classic comebacks," River Falls' coach Greg Gaulke said. "The guys put it all on the line for the team. That's something they will remember for a long time."

Gaulke said Hudson had its way with the Wildcats in the first half, limiting the Cats to a single field goal in each of the first two quarters.

"We came out flat for lack of another term," he said. "They physically pushed us out and all we did was dribble around the perimeter. There was no attacking the basket. We didn't even have that many attempts. Our defense was off the man. Hudson was doing anything they wanted to do."

Gaulke said he challenged his players at halftime, and they responded in a big way.

"As a coach, I just called them out on a little gut check," he said. "I told them, you have a chance here to go in and put a good half of basketball together and accept the outcome.

"I've never seen a team come together like that," he added. "They totally stuck together."

River Falls went on a 17-10 third quarter run to cut the Raider lead to six, 27-21, with one quarter remaining. A Tanner Heinselman steal and layup made it a three-point game, 28-25, and after a pair of Raider free throws, Heinselman nailed a three-pointer to cut the lead to two, 30-28.

Luke Murphy stole the ball on the Raiders' ensuing possession and his lay-up and free throw gave River Falls its first lead of the game, 31-30, with 5:28 remaining.

The score was tied, 33-33, with one minute left when Alex Call hit a pair of free throws to give the Wildcats a two-point lead, but two Hudson free throws ten seconds later tied the score again.

Both teams had chances in the closing seconds but missed their shots before Heinselman's half-court heave at the buzzer fell short, sending the game into overtime.

Call found Brad Freeborn in the lane for the first basket of the extra session to give the Wildcats a 37-35 lead and River Falls never trailed after that. The Cats went on to hit 15-of-18 free throws in the extra session to make the final 52-43.

Murphy was 7-of-8 from the free throw line in overtime and finished 11-of-13 from the line in the game. He finished with a team-high 15 points and six steals.

Freeborn made 7-of-8 free throws and contributed 11 points in the victory while Call made all six of his free throw attempts and finished with 10 points and two steals.

Eric Wunrow added eight points and grabbed a team-high ten rebounds while Heinselman finished with eight points and two steals.

The Cats made just 10 of 29 field goal attempts in the game, including 1-of-11 three-point attempts, but were 28 of 33 from the free throw line.

The victory came at a good time after the Cats suffered a fourth-quarter meltdown in a 50-44 home loss to Eau Claire North three nights earlier. River Falls had a five-point lead heading into the final frame before North closed the game on a 20-9 run.

"We did not stick with the plan and that was the outcome," Gaulke said. "Poor free throw shooting, poor offensive decisions; it all caught up with us."

Freeborn led the Cats with 17 points and seven rebounds and Murphy scored 14 points while Wunrow contributed seven points and eight boards and Call finished with six points.

Gaulke said he thinks both games last week provided a good learning experience for the Cats heading into this weekend's regional playoff round. River Falls will play at Holmen Friday night for a chance to face top-seed and No. 1 ranked Onalaska on Saturday.

The Cats dropped a 59-55 decision at Holmen Jan. 12 and lost to Onalaska, 57-48, two weeks ago at home.

"We're excited to go down there," Gaulke said about the Cats' trip south. "We want to win Friday night and get another shot at Onalaska."

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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