By Paul Lecker For Zaleski Sports
SPENCER – Every comeback attempt the Spencer boys basketball team made in the second half of its game with Neillsville was met with resistance. Until the end.
Neillsville led the entire second half, with the lead fluctuating between three and nine points until the Rockets made a final push during the last two minutes.
Spencer was able to make a number of stops, took advantage of some missed free throws, and was able to pull out a 61-60 victory as Brett Kasch made a pair of free throws with 1.1 seconds to go.
“It was amazing, it was really cool,” Kasch said. “I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t nervous because I was nervous. Then they (Neillsville) called timeout to give me more time to think about it. He (Austin Bacon) told me to shoot them like it was in practice. I did that and I made them, and we won.”
The win pushes Spencer into sole possession of first place in the Cloverbelt Conference East Division at 14-1, one-half game ahead of Neillsville. Spencer finishes its conference schedule Friday at home against Colby and with a win, would clinch at least a share of its first Cloverbelt East crown since 2015. Neillsville hosts winless Granton on Friday and finishes its conference campaign at Marshfield Columbus Catholic on Monday.
“We were really struggling boxing them out and limiting them to one shot,” Spencer coach Clint Nieman. “That’s a good team, Neillsville, with a lot of weapons and size. We don’t match up well with them inside, but I really have to credit the heart of my kids to continue to compete and battle. They showed what they are made of again tonight and I couldn’t be more proud.”
The game was tight throughout. Neillsville led for the first 10 minutes despite the hot shooting from Spencer senior Eric Ehlert. Ehlert made four 3-pointers and Hayden Bauman added another to help Spencer hang close.
A rebound basket by Cody Vircks and a layup by Bacon gave Spencer its first lead at 21-20 with 8:05 to go in the first half.
Neillsville was able to regain the lead on a rebound and basket by Santana Subke and closed the half on a 7-3 run. Braden Trunkel’s 3-pointer with 20 seconds to go gave the Warriors a 36-31 lead at halftime.
Neillsville pushed its lead to 48-39 after Andrew Brown converted a three-point play.
Bacon returned the favor with a three-ppint play with just under nine minutes left to cut Neillsville’s lead to five.
The Warriors quickly pushed it back to nine as Alex King had a steal and layup, and Trunkel scored, making it 54-45 with 5:19 left.
Spencer scored the next five points before Brown had another three-point play, giving Neillsville a 57-50 lad with 3:52 to go. That would be Neillsville’s final basket from the field.
Bacon scored and Ehlert drilled his seventh 3-pointer to make it a two-point game with 1:49 to go.
The teams exchanged free throws and Trunkel made one of two to put Neillsville up 60-57 with 56 seconds remaining.
Bacon made a pair of free throws with 35 seconds left and then Kasch made the play of the game, stealing the inbounds pass to give the Rockets the ball back.
Following a timeout, Spencer dribbled the clock down, and in a panic, the ball was knocked loose and Kasch recovered near halfcourt and was fouled with 1.1 seconds left. He drilled the first free throw, and after a timeout by Neillsville, swished the second. The Warriors were unable to get a shot off before time expired.
“I couldn’t have two better senior leaders (than Kasch and Bacon),” Nieman said. “They’ve been in the program forever, they understand the game, stay composed and don’t get rattled. They’re just gamers. In a game like this when it’s close, I’m pretty calm because I know it’s in good hands.”
Ehlert finished with 21 points, Bacon added 17 points and seven rebounds, and Kasch and Vircks each chipped in nine for the Rockets (15-4 overall).
“Eric is a pure shooter when he goes straight up and down,” Nieman said. “Sometimes he likes to drift to the left and back, and his shot is off. I’m really proud of him tonight. He heeded the advice and got buckets.”
King had 21 points for Neillsville, but on just 8 of 24 shooting. Trunkel added 10 points and Santana Subke had eight points and 10 rebounds for the Warriors (16-3 overall).
Rockets 61, Warriors 60 Neillsville 36 24 – 60 Spencer 31 30 – 61 NEILLSVILLE (60): Isaac Weiers 1-6 1-2 3, Braden Trunkel 3-12 3-4 10, Alex King 8-24 2-3 21, Andrew Brown 2-8 3-4 7, Monte Diestler 2-9 0-0 5, Josiah Katcher 3-4 0-0 6, Santana Subke 4-4 0-0 8. FG: 23-67. FT: 9-13. 3-pointers: 5-30 (King 3-12, Diestler 1-7, Trunkel 1-8, Weiers 0-3). Rebounds: 45 (Subke 10). Turnovers: 13. Fouls: 19. Fouled out: Weiers, Katcher. Record: 17-2, 13-1 Cloverbelt Conference East Division. SPENCER (61): Brett Kasch 2-6 4-6 9, Caleb Rucker 0-0 0-0 0, Hayden Bauman 2-6 0-1 5, Austin Bacon 4-13 9-12 17, Cody Vircks 3-9 2-4 9, Kaleb Brandt 0-0 0-0 0, Eric Ehlert 7-14 0-0 21, Gavid Kilty 0-0 0-0 0. FG: 18-48. FT: 15-23. 3-pointers: 10-25 (Ehlert 7-11, Vircks 1-3, Kasch 1-3, Bauman 1-4, Bacon 0-4). Rebounds: 27 (Vircks 9). Turnovers: 13. Fouls: 16. Fouled out: Ehlert. Record: 15-4, 14-1 Cloverbelt Conference East Division.
Paul Lecker is publisher of MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Zaleski Sports.