By Steve Pilz For Zaleski Sports
MARSHFIELD – The Spencer boys basketball team remained a game behind league-leading Neillsville by downing Columbus Catholic 71-66 on Thursday night at Columbus Catholic High School.
In doing so, the Rockets swept the season series for the first time in perhaps, forever. The last time the Rockets beat the Dons before this year was in December of 2014, when the Rockets were on their way to their first Cloverbelt Conference title and their first outright title in 51 years.
It didn’t come easy.
The Dons came out blazing, hitting seven of their first 10 shots, including 5-for-5 from behind the 3-point line.
Then it got weird.
Good defense? Bad offense? Who knows?
The Dons missed their next 15 shots (16 if you include the second half) and fell behind 38-25 at the half. The Rockets shot just over 50 percent (17-for-36) for the half, while the Dons struggled at 28 percent (7-for-25).
Spencer coach Clint Nieman rolled the dice to start the second half leaving his second-leading scorer, Austin Bacon, on the bench with three fouls. Hard to say what effect it had as the Dons came out hot again, hitting nine of their first 12 shots to climb back in it.
The Dons eventually tied the score at 57 on a three-point play by Jadon Nienast with about five minutes to play, before the Rockets turned to some unlikely heroes to salt the game away.
“Well, Columbus came out hot like we know they can,” said Nieman. “We just had to weather the storm and we did. With Austin (Bacon) on the bench with foul trouble, we needed to have guys step up and they did. Eric (Ehlert) was big for us, with several big buckets, and Kaleb (Brandt) had a breakout game when we needed it.”
With Bacon on the bench again, this time with four fouls, it was Brett Kasch, and backcourt sidekick senior Hayden Baumann to pick up the slack. They had capable help from Ehlert, the senior who scored 10 pints in the second half and the sophomore, Brandt, who may have had his best game of the season with 14 points, making two 3-pointers in the first half and going 6-for-6 from the free throw line down the stretch.
“It’s always a big one with Columbus and tonight was no different,” continued Nieman. “I’m real proud of our guys hanging in there when they came back in the second half. We’ve got guys that know how to take care of the ball.”
Sam Wilcek’s 3-pointer got the Dons within two with 1:40 remaining at 68-66. Bacon made one of two free throws to make it 69-66 with 42 seconds left, and Kasch made two of four down the stretch to provide the final score.
“We’re hoping that we can build our program up where it needs to be,” concluded Nieman, “and beating Columbus twice in a year can help us do that. Just real proud of the kids.”
Wilcek had a career-high 16 for the Dons, who also got 12 from Wyatt Drexler and 11 from Nienast. The Dons play next at Granton on Tuesday.
Kasch led a quartet of Rockets in double-digits with 20 points. Ehlert had 18, Brandt 14 and Bacon chipped in 11. Spencer has a entire week off before hosting Gilman on Feb. 7.
Rockets 71, Dons 66 Spencer 38 33 – 71 Columbus Catholic 25 41 – 66 SPENCER (71): Brett Kasch 7 4-8 20, Caleb Rucker 1 0-0 2, Hayden Bauman 2 0-2 5, Austin Bacon 4 1-2 10, Kaleb Brandt3 6-7 14, Eric Ehlert 9 0-0 18, Gavid Kilty 1 0-0 2. FG: 27-66. FT: 11-21. 3-pointers: 6-19 (Brandt 2, Kasch 2, Bauman 1, Bacon 1). Turnovers: 10. Record: 10-4, 9-1 Cloverbelt Conference East Division. COLUMBUS CATHOLIC (66): Gage Stratman 2 0-0 4, Cole Noreen 3 1-2 9, Tom Nystrom 3 0-0 8, Jadon Nienast 4 2-3 11, Sam Wilcek 4 7-8 16, Wyatt Drexler 4 0-0 12, Grant Olson 2 2-2 6. FG: 22-49. FT: 12-15. 3-pointers: 10 (Drexler 4, Noreen 2, Nystyrom 2, Nienast 1, Wilcek 1). Turnovers 11. Record: 6-8, 5-5 Cloverbelt Conference East Division.
Steve Pilz writes for MarshfieldAreaSports.com, a contributor to Zaleski Sports.