By Paul Lecker For Zaleski Sports
SPENCER – Every time Spencer mounted a comeback, Columbus Catholic was there to answer.
Until the final minute that is.
Spencer pulled ahead for the first time since 90 seconds into the game with a pair of Austin Bacon free throws with 13.2 seconds to go and held on after a wild finish to beat the Dons 75-74 in a Cloverbelt Conference East Division boys basketball game Friday night at Spencer High School.
Spencer’s win snaps Columbus Catholic’s 34-game winning streak in the Cloverbelt East. The Dons, winners of the past four conference titles, had not lost a conference game since a 66-60 defeat against Loyal on Feb. 17, 2017.
Spencer is now 2-0 overall and in the Cloverbelt East, while Columbus falls to 2-2 overall and 1-1 in conference play.
Columbus led 72-63 with 5:09 remaining after a basket and two free throws by Jadon Nienast, who finished with a team-high 26 points.
Neither team scored for the next 2:14 before Spencer started to make a final push.
Tyson McDonald and Brett Kasch both made one of two free throws, and Kasch drilled his fifth 3-pointer of the game a minute later, cutting the Dons’ lead to 72-68.
Nienast made one free throw to push Columbus’ lead to five. Bacon then pushed the Rockets ahead at the line.
On three-straight possessions, Bacon made a pair of free throws, the final two giving Spencer’s its first lead since early in the game at 74-73 with 13.2 seconds left.
After a miss by Columbus, Kasch scrapped out a rebound and Hayden Bauman made one of two free throws with 2 seconds remaining, putting the Rockets up two.
A long inbounds pass for Columbus was swatted out of bounds by Spencer with 0.6 seconds left. Columbus’ Sam Wilczek was then fouled shooting a 3-point attempt at the buzzer, setting up further drama. The sophomore guard missed the first free throw, made the second, but the third bounced off the rim setting off a celebration from the Spencer faithful.
Bacon finished with 27 points, including a 13-for-17 performance at the free throw line, and Kasch added 20 points for the Rockets.
“We’ve had some good senior leadership and we have some depth,” Spencer coach Clint Nieman said. “They grew up playing together. They trust one another on the court and they’ve learned to have fun. This is their last chance to be competitive at the senior level and I’m really, really excited about the effort tonight.”
Tom Nystrom hit three 3-pointers in the first 8 minutes to help the Dons take a 24-14 lead.
Four free throws from Eden Jacobson and a basket by Wilczek pushed Columbus’ lead to 40-21 with 2:54 to go in the first half before the Rockets mounted a run to get them back in the game.
Kasch and Bacon each scored five points in a 12-0 run to cut it to seven. After a basket by Nystrom, Bacon made two more free throws and Columbus led 42-35 at halftime.
Spencer scored the first five points of the second half. Although Columbus was able to push its lead back to double digits on three occasions, the latest at 66-56 following a Nienast 3-pointer with 7:13 to go, the run at the end of the first and start of the second half was the turning point in the game.
“I just reminded the kids you have to take it one possession at a time, and all the other clichés, but if we just settled down and relaxed and played, we could be solid,” Nieman said. “We were just making too many mental errors.
“I’m really proud of the kids’ resolve. I was curious to see how they’d react. I couldn’t be more proud of them in just the second game of the season.”
Columbus Catholic hosts Auburndale on Monday and Spencer will be at home against Abbotsford on Tuesday in a pair of nonconference games.
Rockets 75, Dons 74 Columbus Catholic 42 32 – 74 Spencer 35 40 – 75 COLUMBUS CATHOLIC (74): Gage Stratman 0-1 0-2 0, Cole Noreen 1-1 0-1 2, Zach Olson 0-0 0-0 0, Tom Nystrom 5-9 2-3 15, Jadon Nienast 8-16 7-10 26, Sam Wilczek 1-3 3-5 5, Eden Jacobson 2-7 8-10 12, Wyatt Drexler 5-9 0-0 12, Carlos Hackel 1-1 0-0 2. FG: 23-47. FT: 20-31. 3-pointers: 8-14 (Neinast 3-4, Nystrom 3-5, Drexler 2-5). Rebounds: 33 (Jacobson 11). Turnovers: 21. Fouls: 24. Fouled out: Nienast. Record: 2-2, 1-1 Cloverbelt Conference East Division. SPENCER (75): Brett Kasch 7-19 1-1 20, Caleb Rucker 0-1 0-0 0, Hayden Bauman 2-5 1-2 6, Austin Bacon 6-14 13-17 27, Tyson McDonald 3-4 1-2 7, Kaleb Brandt 1-1 0-0 2, Eric Ehlert 4-12 0-0 11, Cody Vircks 1-2 0-0 2, Gavid Kilty 0-0 0-0 0. FG: 24-58. FT: 16-22. 3-pointers: 11-34 (Kasch 5-14, Ehlert 3-10, Bacon 2-6, Bauman 1-3, Rucker 0-1). Rebounds: 26 (Kasch 5, Bacon 5). Turnovers: 17. Fouls: 22. Fouled out: McDonald. Record: 2-0 overall and Cloverbelt Conference East Division.