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Third time’s the charm as Vikings win regional title over Mounders

There are a lot of sports cliches that come to mind when two very good basketball teams meet up in a regional final. In this case, “it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season” is the one that entered everyone’s mind when the Colfax boys invaded the Elk Mound gym last Saturday night. Elk Mound had just come off a three point win over Eau Claire Regis but with a 23-0 record had a lot of momentum in their favor. The Vikings had lost both regular season games to the Mounders, the second one just eight days earlier by 17 points and they were coming off a hard fought win over Cadott the night before. When all was said and done, Colfax solved the zone defense that has been giving them problems as of late and had four players score in double figures, earning them a 67-52 win in a packed gym for their third regional title in a row.

After the Vikings’ Ethin Kiekhafer continued his hot shooting from the night before with a three pointer to start the scoring, the lead changed hands four times in the first quarter. Hunter Dicus put the Mounders on the board, then put them ahead with a pair of buckets from underneath, Cody Zivcic connected on what would turn out to be the first of many triples on the night for Colfax and Elk Mound’s big man Dexter Curry knotted things up at 6-6 with a baby hook in the lane. After a Lane Olson free toss put the Vikings back up, sharpshooters Dakota Tarnow and Nick Heit hit back to back treys for a 12-7  Mounder lead. Controlling the lane was a key point throughout the game for both teams as Olson scored from underneath twice, sandwiched around an inside shot by the Mounders’ Ryan Bridges. Holding a 14-11 lead, Elk Mound let a golden opportunity to add to their lead slip away as they had the ball with 40 seconds left but missed on a three point attempt as the quarter ended.

There was no home court advantage for Heit as he saw his three point shot go halfway down and pop back out of the basket to start the second quarter, but after Zivcic cooled off and missed on a pair of triples, Curry hit from the paint and Travis Nelson came off the bench for a three ball to put the Mounders up 19-11. Colfax freshman Jarrod Rudi made his presence known when he assisted Olson for a deuce, then after teammate Sawyer DeMoe blocked a Mounder shot, Rudi drained a trey from the corner to cut the Elk Mound lead to 19-16. Points were coming from all over by both teams as Curry and DeMoe traded baskets, Austin Hanson scored for the Mounders which was countered by another DeMoe deuce via an offensive rebound with a free toss. Zac Doll kept the Elk Mound lead at four with a short jumper but Kiekhafer knocked down another shot from behind the arc and the Mounders lost out on another big opportunity when they couldn’t connect on a final shot before the half. At the intermission, Elk Mound held a slim 25-24 lead.

“We kept things close by playing very solid defense,” Colfax coach Andy Meade said. “And we were able to find open players against their zone and hit big shots.”

DeMoe came out of the break on fire as he put the Vikings up on two straight buckets, one coming off a Ben Kragness steal, but Curry rose to the occasion and blocked a pair of Colfax shots, then scored from underneath to cut the Vikings lead to 28-27.

Then the points started adding up even faster. Zivcic found a spot in the left corner and was all alone for a triple, and after Olson blocked Curry’s shot on the other end, the Mounders lost track of Zivcic and he connected from the same spot, prompting Elk Mound coach Chris Hahn to call a time out. Elk Mound missed two shots from close range on their next possession and Olson took advantage of it with a deuce in the paint for a 36-27 lead. The referees were pretty quiet the second half as the first foul on either team was called with just 3:02 left in the third quarter. It happened to be on Colfax and Dicus broke the Vikings scoring run with one of two free throws.

But Zivcic wasn’t done yet as he hit yet another triple—from the same spot—but this time it was answered by Doll’s first long ball of the game. Kiekhafer found DeMoe under the hoop for a bucket and after Zivcic picked off a pass and drove in for a layup, it looked like the Vikings might be in control with a 43-31 lead. But remember, this is the Elk Mound team that has remained calm all year in tough games, and everyone knew they were not going down easy. Tarnow showed that as he completed a rare four point play after hitting a three pointer and adding the free throw. Both teams had a turn with the ball in the last 45 seconds but didn’t score, sending the game into the final quarter with Colfax leading 43-35.

Zivcic decided if things ain’t broken, don’t fix it and he went right back to his favorite spot for another triple to open the quarter and Olson scored from the lane for a 48-35 lead. After a Curry free throw, Doll knocked down a triple and after DeMoe’s deuce, the Mounder’s scored five straight points on a Tarnow basket and Doll’s third trey of the game, getting their team back to within six points at 50-44. Olson scored from close range again, but was called for his fourth foul a few seconds later, which turned out to be the Viking’s seventh team foul with 4:14 left in the game. Elk Mound had only two team fouls at this point.

Bridges hit a pair of free throws and the Mounders defense stepped up to force a five second call on the Vikings. Heit was then fouled by Olson, sending him to the bench as Heit hit both free throws, and Elk Mound was in business, down by four with 3:14 left. But Kragness picked a pretty good time to score his first points of the game when he slipped under the basket and scored off an in-bounds pass. And again, Elk Mound responded when Bridges scored from close range. With 2:19 left, the Mounders committed their seventh team foul and if anyone had been at the Vikings game the night before, they knew things were looking pretty good when Kiekhafer went to the foul line. After he hit two freebies, Colfax added nine more points from the line to finish things off, including two more by Kiekhafer, two from DeMoe, one from Kragness, two by Zivcic and the final two by DeMoe.

“We have been able to overcome a lot of different situations all year but tonight Colfax shot the ball so well from the perimeter we just weren’t able to overcome it,” coach Hahn said after the emotional loss. “They got up by 12 and we did a great job of battling through adversity, twice cutting the lead to four. We were a little long on an outlet pass that could have cut the lead to two, A few bounces here or there and there’s a good chance we’re still playing. Tonight Colfax was better than us and it’s unfortunate to have to end our season. There is no doubt in my mind that we are as good as any team in the state and I am lucky to have such great kids on and off the court.They have given the members of our community something to be proud of,” he added.

Meade had nothing but high praise for the Mounder team.

“Elk Mound has a great team and we both knew this would be a tough game,” he said. “I have an incredible amount of respect for their players and coaches. But we also have a good team and we responded very well with our veterans and our young kids all stepping up on both ends of the court. We took some pressure off Kiekhafer at point guard on the offensive end and didn’t turn the ball over a whole lot. It was a great high school basketball game which is the way playoff games should be,” he concluded.

Colfax finished the game with 88% shooting from the foul line on 15 of 17 shots. DeMoe was 7 for 7, Kiekhafer 4 for 4 and Zivcic was 2 for 2. Zivcic, playing on a sore ankle he injured in the Cadott game, led all scorers with 21 points including those five triples while DeMoe added 17, Olson 13 and Kiekhafer 10. DeMoe collected 11 rebounds and Kiekhafer led in assists with eight. Doll led the Mounders with 11 points while Tarnow and Curry both finished with nine. As a team they were 9 of 12 from the charity stripe.

Elk Mound ended their season with a conference championship and a 23-1 record. The Vikings are now 19-5 and will begin defense of their sectional title at Osceola against Unity, Thursday, Feb. 28.

COLFAX (67) Zivcic 7-2-2-21, DeMoe 5-7-7-17, Olson 6-1-2-13, Kiekhafer 2-4-4-10, Rudi 1-0-0-3, Kragness 1-1-2-3

ELK MOUND (52) Doll 4-0-0-11, Tarnow 2-3-3-9, Curry 4-1-2-9, Bridges 3-2-2-8, Heit 1-2-3-5, Dicus 2-1-2-5, Nelson 1-0-0-3, Hanson 1-0-0-2

THREE POINTERS: Zivcic 5, Doll 3, Kiekhafer 2, Tarnow 2, Rudi 1, Heit 1, Nelson 1