By Paul Lecker
WISCONSIN RAPIDS – A potential Division 5 sectional semifinal between Wausau Newman Catholic and Marshfield Columbus Catholic had been anticipated since the playoff assignments were released before the season.
Each team rolled through its first three regional games to make the matchup a reality, and it lived up to the hype.
Columbus Catholic outscored Newman Catholic 16-10 over the final 5 minutes to earn a 65-59 victory and a spot in Saturday’s sectional final.
The Dons (24-4) will play Gilbraltar (18-10) in a Division 5 sectional final at Pulaski on Saturday at 7 p.m. for a berth in next week’s WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament in Madison. The game will be broadcast live at zaleskisports.com.
“I think we were fortunate to go on the last run,” Columbus Catholic coach Joe Konieczny said. “It seemed like they would make a run, we would make a run. It would be tied and you just didn’t know who was going to score the next four or five points. We just happened to make the last run.
“They have a really good coach and some really talented players. (Mason) Prey and (Isaac) Seidel are very difficult to defend together and we feel very fortunate to be advancing.”
The game was tight throughout, with neither team leading by more than three in the first half.
Emmitt Konieczny made four 3-pointers in the opening 7 minutes for Columbus Catholic, and the Cardinals responded with four 3s of their own in the first 9½ minutes. Conner Krach’s second 3-pointer gave Newman a 16-14 lead with 8:22 to go before halftime.
Columbus went nearly 7 minutes without a field goal but were able to pull back ahead on two free throws each by Cole Noreen and Grant Olson.
Olson nailed back-to-back 3-pointers for the Dons, and Mason Prey made his only basket of the first half just before the buzzer for Newman and Columbus took a 24-22 lead into intermission.
Newman took its biggest lead of the game at 36-30 after a basket from Eli Gustafson and two free throws by Jackson Pfender before sophomore sharp-shooter Blake Jakobi caught fire.
Jakobi, who was 0-for-5 from 3-point range to that point, drilled back-to-back long balls to tie the game.
After Krach hit two more 3-pointers for Newman, Jakobi responded with two more. The second, which tied the game at 42-42, came as a foul under the basket was called on Newman, giving the ball back to the Dons. Sam Wilczek scored on the ensuing possession to give the Dons a 44-42 lead with 7:21 to go in the game.
Each team exchanged points three times as two free throws from Prey tied the game at 49-49 with 5:37 to go.
Wilczek made a free throw and following a Newman turnover he scored on a fastbreak to put the Dons ahead 54-29 with 4:50 remaining. It was a lead Columbus would not relinquist.
Newman cut it to one on a basket by Isaac Seidel, who was fouled on the play. He missed the free throw to tie the game and Columbus started a parade to the foul line.
Newman committed seven fouls in the final 1:12 to extend the game and its potential possessions and the Dons responded by making 13 of 16 free throws.
A 3-pointer by Seidel with 51 seconds left cut Columbus’ lead to one again, but the Cardinals missed on its next three shots and the Dons were able to finish off the win at the line.
Olson and Wilczek each scored 15 points, Konieczny added 14, and Jakobi had the four 3s in the second half to end up with 12 for Columbus.
Krach had 15 points, Pfender 11 and Prey 10 for the Cardinals, who finish the season with a 20-8 record.
“(Jakobi) has ice in his veins and he’s not afraid of the moment,” Joe Konieczny said. “He hit some big shots. I thought early on Emmitt hit those four (3-pointers) and that maybe hurt us a bit. Not that you don’t want that, but then we didn’t score for a while until Olson hit those two big ones. Those were the only two kids with a field goal for a while. I thought Wilczek made some big plays, Charlie Moore made a big 3, and we made just enough free throws.”
Columbus Catholic will play for its third state tournament berth in the past six seasons, with the last coming in 2019 when it lost in the Division 5 championship game. This year’s group of seniors were freshmen that season, sitting on the bench for the buzzer-beating win in the semifinals and the championship game loss.
“Wilczek and Noreen were on the bench and I think it was a motivating thing for them,” Joe Konieczny said. “We never talk about it (going to state), we just try to get to the next opportunity. In life, when you take advantage of one opportunity, a lot of times you get a better one. That’s kind of how the playoffs work and they’ve really embraced it.”
Dons 65, Cardinals 59
Newman Catholic 22 37 - 59
Columbus Catholic 24 41 - 65
NEWMAN CATHOLIC (59): Mason Prey 3-10 3-3 10, Jackson Pfender 3-7 2-2 11, Conner Krach 6-14 0-2 15, Jacob Pfiffner 3-7 0-0 7, Owen Sullivan 0-1 0-0 0, Isaac Seidel 3-9 2-3 9, Eli Gustafson 3-5 0-2 7. FG: 21-53. FT: 7-12. 3-pointers: 10-27 (Pfender 3-5, Krach 3-10, Seidel 1-3, Pfiffner 1-3, Gustafson 1-3, Prey 1-3). Rebounds: 38 (Prey 10, Krach 10). Turnovers: 13. Fouls: 25. Fouled out: Pfiffner. Record: 20-8.
COLUMBUS CATHOLIC (65): Emmitt Konieczny 4-9 2-2 14, Cole Noreen 1-6 4-4 6, Charlie Moore 1-3 0-0 3, Sam Wilczek 3-12 8-10 15, Blake Jakobi 4-11 0-0 12, Grant Olson 3-6 7-12 15, Lucas Kreklau 0-0 0-0 0. FG: 16-47. FT: 21-38. 3-pointers: 12-29 (Konieczny 4-7, Jakobi 4-10, Olson 2-3, Moore 1-1, Wilczek 1-6, Noreen 0-2). Rebounds: 30 (Olson 5, Konieczny 5, Wilczek 5, Noreen 5). Turnovers: 11. Fouls: 11. Fouled out: none. Record: 24-4.