RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- River Falls coach Zac Campbell said last Saturday’s regional final between the Wildcats and Hudson was everything you would expect in a River Falls-Hudson playoff game.
After splitting with the Raiders during the regular season, the top-seeded Wildcats saw a 13-point lead dwindle to one in the final minute before making their free throws down the stretch to hold on for a 66-61 victory over the second-seeded Raiders.
“A lot of passion on both sides and a lot of special individual plays being made,” Campbell said about the game. “That's a really good Hudson team that had as good of a shot as anyone to get to state out of our section.”
The Wildcats had to work for everything they got Saturday night after Hudson closed a nine-point halftime gap to one in the final minute.
“If you would have told me that Hudson would attempt 21 more field goals than us, there is no way that I would have thought we would win,” Campbell noted. “We lost the turnover battle by ten and the offensive rebound battle by nine. Those are not numbers you can win games with. A shooting percentage of 61 percent and timely free throws down the stretch cures a lot of ills though, and we were fortunate to sneak one out.”
Zac Johnson led the Wildcats with 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field and 8-of-10 from the free throw line. JT Dougherty added 14 points and Chris Chapin had 13, including three of the Wildcats’ five 3-pointers, while Michael Schurman added seven points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Hudson coach John Dornfeld said the Raiders knew going into Saturday night that it would be their biggest test of the year.
“We struggled some offensively but a large part of that was River Falls length and skill on defense,” he said. “They are very tough to score on inside with the 6-8 Dougherty twins always around the basket, and with them protecting the rim they can really challenge us out beyond the 3-point line. I was extremely proud of our effort and felt like we carried out our game plan to the best of our ability. We just needed one or two more plays.”
Luke Healy scored a team-high 26 points and grabbed six rebounds in his final high school game while Brandon Moeri added 23 points, including three 3-pointers. Carter Herink was Hudson’s next leading scorer with six points while also pulling down six boards.
River Falls advanced to the regional title game with a 65-53 victory over fourth-seeded Menomonie Friday night, Feb. 19.
Johnson was the lone Wildcat in double figures with 28 points and pulled down a team-high five rebounds, while Schurman and Chapin finished with nine points each, with all of Chapin’s coming from beyond the arc. Schurman also dished out a team-high five assists while JT Dougherty contributed eight points, four rebounds and four assists.
It was the third win of the season for the Wildcats over Menomonie, but it didn’t come easy.
“When you see a team for a third time in the season, especially ones coached as well as the coaches we have in our league, you aren't fooling anybody with what you do,” Campbell said. “Our first half play was filled with adrenaline and a lot of poor action and shot selection. Once we were able to settle in the second half we had great flow in our half court offense.”
For the third consecutive game, River Falls will face another conference opponent for the third time this season when they host Eau Claire North in a sectional semifinal this Thursday, Feb. 25. The Wildcats are the No. 1 seed in the sectional and the Huskies are No. 4, but like the last two games, Campbell said there won’t be any surprises on either side.
“We look forward to the challenge, but as with Menomonie and Hudson you aren't going to get anything easy when the coaches and players know each other so well,” he said. “We must have a focused week of practice and have more complete performances than we did in the regionals in order to give ourselves a chance to make it to the sectional finals.”
The winner of Thursday night’s game in River Falls will play either No. 2 De Pere or No. 3 Appleton North for the sectional title Saturday, Feb. 27, at the home of the higher seed.
Hudson holds off Chippewa in semifinals
Saturday night’s loss to River Falls ended Hudson’s season with a record of 15-6 and came one night after the Raiders held off Chippewa Falls, 53-50, in a regional semifinal in Hudson. It was the second win in three tries for the Raiders against the Cardinals this season.
The Raiders led by five at the break, 29-24, and maintained their tenuous lead throughout the second half before sealing the game at the free throw line at the end.
The Cardinals pulled to within two, 47-45, on a 3-pointer with 38 seconds remaining but a pair ofHealy free throws with 22.7 seconds left extended the Raider lead to four. After a pair of Chippewa Falls free throws with 10.5 seconds remaining, Healy was fouled on the inbounds pass and hit two more free throws to make it a four-point game, 51-47, with 8.3 seconds left.
Chippewa Falls caught a break when Joe Rueter was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 2.7 seconds on the clock and Rueter made all three of his free throws to cut the Raiders lead to 51-50. The Cardinals immediately fouled Andre Renta and Renta drained both free throws to make it a three-point game with 1.7 seconds remaining.
Renta and Moeri combined to break up a long Cardinal pass before they could get off a potential tying 3-point attempt to seal the Raiders’ 53-50 win.
Healy went 10-for-10 from the free throw line on his way to a team-high 20 points and came up with four steals on the other end while Renta finished with 19 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Healy and Renta also pulled down seven rebounds apiece while Herink had six.
Hudson finished the season winning 15 of its last 18 games despite dealing with numerous injuries and COVID-related issues.
“My rough count is a total of 32 games involving six varsity players,” Dornfeld said. “No one in the area got hit like we did. We had so many players step up and play important roles when others were out so we stayed competitive at all times and won a lot of games.”
Dornfeld said Hudson’s senior group of Moeri, Healy, Herink, Zach Anderson, Cole Nelson, Javon Stephens and Cole Jacobson led the way and had an incredible impact on the program.
“Really good players and great human beings,” he said.