Tough ending for Crickets boys' cagers in regional tournament

FALL CREEK - Sometimes a single moment in a ballgame can encapsulate a whole game's worth of problems.

This was the case in the WIAA Division 4 regional tournament championship contest between No. 3 seeded Fall Creek and No. 2 Durand at Durand last week Saturday, March 4.

While a controversial charging call wiped out a basket that could have won the game for FC much to the Crickets displeasure, it also highlighted the fact Fall Creek had 20 fouls called against them with one player fouling out and two others nearly so. The Panthers weren't great at the free-throw line but they certainly outscored FC by an 11-2 margin to help them win the game 38-36.

The Panthers' leading scorer, 6-6 sophomore guard Ethan Hurlburt, led them in scoring in this game with 14 points, including six free-throws. Fellow guard, 6-0 junior Zack Nelson had 10 points for Durand, 21-5 overall. Bo Vollrath was the only Fall Creek player in double figures with 11 points while teammate Soren Johnson scored nine and Leo Hagberg had seven points.

"With the foul trouble, we had to be a bit more conservative defensively and switched earlier to a zone," FC head coach Rick Storlie said "Yet, the players that came off the bench, played very hard and gave us a very good chance to win the game. Having to sit Bo Vollrath, for long stretches, due to foul trouble, certainly hurt us on both ends of the floor. He is a tremendous player and tough to replace. With Jeffrey Ritger picking up his fourth late and with Soren Johnson already playing with four fouls, we needed to be careful and had to go a bit smaller than normal. However, our bench did a very nice job. It shifted our subbing pattern for sure though."

Durand also had the edge on Fall Creek in three pointers by a 5-2 margin, including one by Nelson which put the home team ahead 37-36 with :16.8 seconds remaining set off an explosion of noise in the packed gymnasium.

Durand led slightly through much of the first and second halves but Fall Creek went in front 31-29 at the 7:44 mark of the second half and held it until the final :17 seconds of the ballgame. FC had another shot to win or tie with the last possession of the contest but it did not go down.

Durand moves on to the Osseo-Fairchild Sectional Tournament this weekend while Fall Creek goes home wondering what happened to its offense? After scoring 86 points against No. 5 ranked Marshfield Columbus in the Cloverbelt Championship game, the Crickets were held to just 36 points against Durand and 56 in the regional semifinal win over Neillsville 56-46 at home on Friday, March 4.

"Against Marshfield Columbus in the overall Cloverbelt Conference title game, we had the size advantage and we used that certainly in the second half in our big comeback. Columbus opened up certain spots on the floor that we took advantage of," Storlie said. "In WIAA play, Neillsville came in with a very good defensive scheme as they went to a triangle-and-two scheme on defense on Cameron Martzke and Bo Vollrath. That certainly slowed them down offensively. We had to look to other players to pick up that part of the game and we had some do that and gave us a chance to move on in tournament play. And Durand has very good size and is a physical squad. They actually were bigger than what we are and very physical. They did not allow Martzke to breathe all game long. They made him work. Then with the foul trouble to Vollrath, they took our top two scorers out for a large portion of the game. We had opportunities to score, could not find the range or take advantage of potential putbacks. They are a tough defensive team."

The Warriors, 18-8 overall, rallied from an eight-point early deficit in the second half to come within two at 35-33 at the 9:45 mark. From there Fall Creek surged in front to lead 52-39 on a 17-4 run. Johnson scored 16 points for the Crickets with Jeffery Ritger scoring nine points and his FC teammates Vollrath, Cameron Martzke, Ben Kelly and Hagberg scoring seven points each. Vollrath finished with 11 rebounds and Johnson had seven.

Fall Creek won the Cloverbelt Conference this season but lost the regional which was the opposite of what occurred last year. But either way, a loss in March, when it happens, still hurts,

"I told our team immediately afterwards that there are no losers here tonight. You played hard, we just ran out of time. "They made one more play than what we did, " Storlie said. In life, we will run into disappointing times. It is how we respond to those situations that will reveal your character. And it was a very tough emotional loss for all of us. Since I have been head coach, past 23 seasons, this was our 14th appearance in a regional championship game. In those games we have won 10 of them. So, not moving on with this great group of guys is very tough. The young men on this team showed what they are made of. I am so proud of each and every one of them. We made no excuses or pointed fingers. It just did not work out this time. Our community, I know as I am, is very proud of this team and group of young men who represented our school and community so well all season long."


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