RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- River Falls boys’ basketball coach Zac Campbell said the rivalry between Hudson and River Falls makes each team better. That’s why the Wildcats and Raiders are the top two teams in the Big Rivers Conference and the top two seeds in their Division 1 regional.
“To have the two teams from our area sit atop the Big Rivers standings is a testament to how, despite the rivalry between Hudson and River Falls, we truly make each other better by continuing to raise the bar within our programs to meet the others ability,” he said. “We are fortunate to have a school like Hudson so close to us that holds our performance to a high level of expectations just to be able to compete with them.”
The latest installment in the rivalry came last Tuesday, Feb. 1, in River Falls, where the Wildcats avenged an early-season loss to the Raiders with a 74-62 victory.
The win vaulted River Falls ahead of Hudson in the BRC standings, and the Wildcats clinched at least a share of the conference title with a 70-49 victory over Rice Lake Saturday, Feb. 5 to put them at 8-2 in conference play (15-2 overall). Hudson slipped to 7-4 in BRC play before picking up a 62-51 nonconference victory over Superior 62-41 Friday night to improve to 12-5 overall.
The Wildcats and Raiders were also awarded the top two seeds, and first round byes, at Sunday’s regional seeding meeting. Top seeded River Falls will host either No. 4 Menomonie or No. 5 Superior in a regional semifinal Friday, Feb. 19, while Hudson will host No. 3 Chippewa Falls. If both teams win, it would set up a third meeting between the two for the regional championship Saturday, Feb. 20.
“Chippewa will present an immense challenge in the first round and we feel fortunate that we get them at home.,” Hudson coach John Dornfeld said. “And we’re hopeful that we have the opportunity to play River Falls one more time this year.”
Last Tuesday in River Falls, the Wildcats led by double digits for most of the game but had to hold off a late Hudson surge to defeat the Raiders, 74-62.
Hudson trimmed a 16-point second half deficit to six with just two minutes remaining but that’s as close as they could get as River Falls hit 7-of-8 free throws down the stretch.
“The first half Tuesday night was a focused effort by our players,” Campbell said. “We have found our rhythm from the perimeter recently and when we are able to play inside-out with the basketball, we are very difficult to defend.”
Hudson scored the first five points of the game but the Wildcats answered with a 16-0 run, sparked by two 3-pointers each from Chris Chapin and JT Dougherty, and led 42-30 at the break.
River Falls scored the first four points of the second half to open up its biggest lead of the game, 46-30, and led by 15, 60-45, with six minutes remaining before Hudson cut it to single digits on a 3-pointer by Cole Jacobson that made the score 61-53.
A Luke Healy turnaround jumper in the lane for Hudson made it a six-point game, 61-55 with 2:24 left but the Raiders came up empty on their next two possessions while River Falls got a free throw from Michael Schurman, a put-back by Liam Dougherty and a pair of free throws from Jacob Landraf to push its lead to 66-55 with 1:35 remaining.
Healy hit a pair of free throws ten seconds later to keep Hudson’s chances alive but the Cats hit six of seven free throws in the final 1:13 to salt the game away.
Johnson led five Wildcats in double figures with 18 points while JT Dougherty had 14 points and eight rebounds. Landgraf finished with 12 points while going 7-of-9 from the free throw line in the second half and Chapin and Schurman each scored 11.
Healy had 25 points and five assists to lead Hudson and Jacobson had five 3-pointers while finishing with 21 points while Andre Renta contributed 11 points and four steals.
The Cats clinched at least a share of the BRC title Saturday as Chapin drilled five 3-pointers to finish with 17 points and Johnson led four Cats in double figures in a 70-49 victory over Rice Lake.
Johnson also had eight rebounds and six assists and JT Dougherty finished with 11 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots while Liam Dougherty contributed 10 points.
The Wildcats made 10 3-pointers in the game and shot 52 percent from the field (27-of-52) while outrebounding the Warriors 37-27.
Campbell said the conference championship is a testament to the Wildcats’ resiliency this season.
“The sacrifices these kids have made in vulnerable times of their lives is an accomplishment in and of itself,” he said. “Being able to clinch a share on our homecourt will be a special symbol of the season when we look back at it, but the process to how they got here has made them champions.”
The Wildcats visited Chippewa Falls Tuesday, Feb. 9, and Eau Claire North Thursday, Feb. 11 for a chance to wrap up the BRC title outright.
Raiders bounce back with win at Superior
Hudson picked up the tempo in the second half at Superior Friday night and turned a three-point halftime lead into an 11-point nonconference victory over the Spartans, 62-51.
Healy led the Raiders with 15 points and Renta had 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals as the Raiders improved to 12-5 overall.
“We struggled some offensively in the first half and talked at halftime about the need to speed Superior up so we decided to trap them some,” Dornfeld said. “We were able to push them into quicker shots and in some cases turnovers. That seemed to get us going offensively and then we also did a better job of finding shots in the paint.”
Brandon Moeri contributed eight points and eight rebounds in the win while Jacobson and John Witcher had six points and four rebounds each.
“I really liked the way John Witcher and Andre Renta sparked our defense in the second half,” Dornfeld said. “ Both were very active pressuring the ball and getting in the passing lane, which led to deflections and steals.”
The Raiders will conclude BRC play Thursday, Feb. 11, at Rice Lake before wrapping up the regular season at home against Sun Prairie Saturday, Feb. 13.