By Steve Pilz For MarshfieldAreaSports.com
SPENCER – The Spencer Rockets boys basketball team headed into the WIAA Division 4 playoffs as the No. 6 seed against the 11th-seeded Abbotsford Falcons on Tuesday night in a regional quarterfinal at Spencer’s R.J. Tack Auditorium.
The Rockets defeated the Falcons by nine, 61-52, on Dec. 10, and this one had the makings of the same outcome. Except nobody told the Falcons.
Spencer was able to pull out a tight 49-48 victory on Tuesday, advancing to a Division 4 regional semifinal at Edgar (17-5) on Friday at 7 p.m.
Abby led from the outset behind a 3-point barrage from senior Blake Draper, who drained four 3-pointers to stake the Falcons to a 22-16 lead with 3:31 left in the first half.
The Rockets closed the half on a 9-0 run thanks to Brett Kasch, who drained a pair of 3s, the last coming just before the buzzer from about 23 feet away and the Rockets led 25-22.
And that was it as far as runs were concerned because everything from there on out was close and contested.
The Rockets showed why they won a share of the Cloverbelt East Championship this season. They refuse to back down and rarely lose a close game.
“Playoffs,” said Spencer coach Clint Nieman, “you win and keep going, right?
“That was a tough game. Hats off to Abbotsford and their coach. Their kids came ready to play tonight. They put up a heck of a fight. We just had a really hard time making any shots in the first half. I’m proud of the resiliency of this team. They have a big heart. They keep fighting and playing always. Tonight, we really struggled. This wasn’t our night. Abby played some good defense, but we really struggled shooting the ball tonight. Hopefully we can clean it up on Friday.”
The Rockets’ biggest lead in the second half was a whopping four points as the Falcons refused to knuckle under.
After Eric Ehlert put the Rockets up 47-43 with a lay-up at the 3:15 mark, Abby’s Hunter Soyk hit his only three of the game to cut the lead to one.
Spencer’s Austin Bacon made one of two free throws to push it to 48-46 with 2:09 remaining before Abby’s Cade Faber’s lay-up tied the score at 48 with just more than a minute to go.
Spencer’s Cody Virks made one of two free throws at the 1:01 mark to give the Rockets a 49-48 lead and that would hold.
Abby turned the ball over and Spencer called time with just under a minute to go. The Rockets tried to waste some time, but turned the ball over with 11 seconds left.
After a timeout, the Falcons got a pretty good look from Draper, who missed his 3-pointer, and a desperation mid-range shot by Mason Carpenter was contested and didn’t come close and the Rockets advanced.
“Those two 3s that Brett (Kasch) hit at the end of the first half turned out to be pretty big,” concluded Nieman. “He struggled a bit tonight and had a tough game Saturday in the crossover against Thorp, but I’m really proud of how he fought through it.
“Sometimes he’s his own worst enemy, but he did a nice job in the second half.”
Kasch lead the Rockets with 17 and Bacon added 14.
The Falcons had three players in double digits with Draper scoring 14, Carpenter 13 and Faber 10. Abbotsford ends the season with a 6-17 record.
Rockets 49, Falcons 48 Abbotsford 22 26 – 48 Spencer 25 24 – 49 ABBOTSFORD (48): Hunter Soyk 3 0-0 7, Cade Faber 5 0-3 10, Blake Draper 5 0-0 14, Mason Carpenter 5 3-7 13, Reiley Schreiber 2 0-2 4. FG: 19-45. FT: 3-12. 3-pointers: 5-17 (Draper 4, Soyk). Turnovers: 19. Fouled out: none. Record: 6-17. SPENCER (49): Brett Kasch 5 3-4 17, Hayden Bauman 1 0-2 2, Austin Bacon 4 6-12 14, Cody Vircks 2 1-4 5, Eric Ehlert 4 0-0 9, Gavid Kilty 1 0-0 2. FG: 17-54. FT: 10-24. 3-pointers: 5-18 (Kasch 4, Ehlert). Turnovers: 12. Fouled out: none. Record: 17-6.