River Falls stings Tiger boys in basketball regional final
Getting past the regional final remains an elusive goal for the New Richmond boys basketball team.
The Tigers were upset in Saturday's regional final, losing to River Falls 54-45 at Osceola High School.
River Falls advances to the WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal. They will face Onalaska in that game, which will be played at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Eau Claire North High School. The winner of Thursday's game will play in the sectional championship game in Marshfield at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
The Tigers finish the season with a 22-2 record. This matches the best record in team history. The 1972-73 Tigers that advance to the state tournament also finished with a 22-2 record.
The suddenness of the loss hit the Tigers hard. There are nine seniors on this year's squad and they had hoped to advance deeper into the playoffs. Tiger coach Rick Montreal said the loss can't tarnish everything the seniors have accomplished. They became the second boys team ever to win four straight Middle Border Conference titles.
"This year's seniors are leaving such a high standard for future kids to look up to," Montreal said. "There's no doubt they had put thousands of hours in. It's tough to let that go."
What cost the Tigers was an uncharacteristic night of cold shooting. The Tigers struggled from the three-point arc and they kept trying the long-range shots. Twenty of their 44 shots from the field were from behind the arc.
River Falls shot 10 less times than the Tigers. But the Wildcats were effective in getting close range shots. River Falls made 55 percent of its shots in the game, compared to 38 percent for the Tigers.
From the start the Wildcats had the Tigers on the ropes. River Falls jumped out to a 14-5 lead before the Tigers scored the final seven points of the first quarter to cut the difference to 14-12.
At halftime the score stood at 20-19 in River Falls' favor.
The best quarter of basketball was the third. Both teams played at a high intensity and the teams traded baskets for much of the quarter. The score was tied 35-35 until the Wildcats scored the final hoop of the quarter to lead 37-35 heading into the fourth quarter.
River Falls scored the first two hoops of the fourth quarter and the Tigers were forced to play catch-up through the rest of the quarter. The lead stayed at 5-7 points until River Falls hit five free throws in the final 34 seconds of the game.
Darren O'Flanagan led the Tigers with 15 points on Saturday and Riley Kannel scored 11 points.
One obstacle the Tigers had to deal with on Saturday was Montreal having a severe cold that robbed him of his voice. For a coach who is frequently yelling instructions to his players, this became a major difficulty.
"The kids became a little disconnected from me and the staff," Montreal said. "The inability to be on the same page was tough to overcome."
The Tigers advanced into Saturday's game by drilling Menomonie on Friday, 58-29. In the first quarter the Tigers had already built a double-digit lead. By halftime the Tigers' lead stood at 29-6.
"That was maybe the best defensive half I've seen since I've been here and I've seen some good ones," Montreal said.
The big lead allowed Montreal to rest the starters and get his reserves significant minutes in a tournament game.
O'Flanagan and Dalton Sabby each scored 12 points to lead the Tigers and Kannel scored 10 points. John Hansen led the team with seven rebounds. O'Flanagan led the team with five assists and four steals.
Montreal said the success of this team will leave a lasting legacy, because of the commitment shown by each member of the team.
"There will probably never be another senior class like this, when you look at the time they spent working on basketball, their camaraderie, their sense of family being together," Montreal said.