Osceola's sizzling shooting burns Tigers
Defense was the make-or-break factor for the New Richmond boys basketball team.
The Tigers' inability to defend Osceola's sizzling outside shooters was the breaking point in last Thursday's WIAA Division 2 regional semifinal. Osceola rained down nine three-pointers, eight of them in the first half, to defeat the Tigers 58-35.
The Tigers finish the 2008-09 season with a 15-7 record and a share of the Middle Border Conference championship. Considering that there were no starters returning from last season and three players returned with any varsity experience, the Tigers were one of the surprise teams in the area this season.
"There weren't many people thinking we'd do that," Tiger coach Rick Montreal said about the team's conference title. "The kids kept working and wanting to improve. When we found an identity, it was about playing defense and taking care of the ball."
The Tigers struggled at the start and end of the season, but in the heart of the season they were nearly unstoppable. They went 12-2 in the middle of the season, with the two losses in that stretch to Eau Claire North and River Falls from the Big Rivers Conference.
Loss to Osceola
Thursday's loss to Osceola was stunning in how quickly the game got out of reach for the Tigers.
Osceola jumped out to a 7-0 lead, though the Tigers answered with five points. That's when Osceola guard Tyler Pauley caught fire. Pauley hit two treys in the final 3:30 of the first quarter, then drained three more in the second quarter as the Tigers scrambled to cover Osceola's perimeter shooters. The Tigers trailed 20-7 at the end of the first quarter and by halftime they were facing an insurmountable 36-16 deficit.
By the end of the third quarter the Osceola lead stood at 45-24. The Tigers weren't going to go down without a fight. They opened the fourth quarter like the team Tiger fans had watched roll to 15 wins.
The Tigers scored eight straight points to start the fourth quarter, holding the Chieftains scoreless for more than three minutes. That cut the margin to 13 points, but Osceola's shooters again took control of the game. This time it was from the free throw line. Osceola made 10 straight free throws in the final 3:55 of the game to end any hopes of a Tiger comeback.
Montreal had no answers why the Tigers suddenly lost their defensive sharpness in the final three games of the season. In each of those games the Tigers allowed more than 50 points. They allowed one opponent to reach 50 points in their previous 14 games.
"It was our worst game of the year," Montreal said. "Bad timing."
John Peper and Michael Jansen led the Tigers with six points each against Osceola.
Win over Somerset
The Tigers got a good test in the opening round of Division 2 tournament play last Tuesday from Somerset. The Spartans pushed the Tigers right to the final seconds of the game before the Tigers were able to pull out a 58-51 win.
It seemed that whenever the Tigers were on the verge of pulling away, Somerset came back and threatened to take the lead. And it seemed that each time Somerset threatened to get the lead, Peper stepped up for the Tigers.
Peper's biggest hoop came late in the third quarter, when Somerset had shaved the Tigers' lead to 34-31. Peper then got the ball in the corner and buried a three-point shot to give the Tigers some breathing room.
Peper also came up big in the fourth quarter, scoring six of his 15 points.
Jansen finished the game with 13 points, scoring five in the fourth quarter.
The Tiger reserves gave the team important minutes in the tournament games. Jared Kidder, Jordan Anderson, Riley Kannel and Justice Harvieux all had important stretches in those games. Kidder led the Tigers with nine rebounds against Somerset. Harvieux scored five points against Osceola as he showed a willingness to take charge when the offense was struggling.
The Tigers graduate another large senior class this season. Peper, Derek Sabby, Lance Bauer, Anderson, Ethan Ongstad, Steve McCarthy and Max Kittel graduate from this year's team.