OSCEOLA — Colfax boys’ basketball coach Andy Meade may want to put in a request to the WIAA to set the sectional tournament brackets up a little different in the future. Two of the past three years, a team from the West Lakeland Conference ended the Vikings’ season including Grantsburg in a sectional final in 2011, and this year, the Unity Eagles had their number as they pulled out a 36-35 win in a semi-final game played in Osceola Feb. 28. (Colfax defeated conference rival Boyceville last year to get to the state tournament).
The Eagles began the night against the favored Vikings with a 16-8 overall record which included regional wins over Cameron and Boyceville. Meanwhile, the Vikings were coming off perhaps their best performance of the season with a big win over Elk Mound and appeared to have not only a size advantage but more athletic ability than Unity. But as the stunned Colfax crowd discovered when the final buzzer sounded, what counts in the game of basketball is getting the ball in your own basket while stopping the other team from doing the same.
It wasn’t a surprise to anyone who had been following the teams in the sectional that Unity would play a patient, slow type of offense to keep the ball away from the Vikings. Colfax has shown throughout the season they can score in bunches and have several players who can get a hot hand at any given time. They took a quick 5-0 lead on a Sawyer DeMoe shot from under the hoop and a three ball by Cody Zivcic, but several turnovers and a missed three pointer on their part allowed the Eagles to go on a seven point run to take the lead. Ethin Kiekhafer took the lead back on a triple but after Unity missed two straight treys, the Vikings Lane Olson had three shots miss the mark from under the hoop, the third attempt had the ball coming to rest on the back of the rim and staying right there. The result was a jump ball that went in Unity’s favor, and they took advantage of it, scoring from close range for a 9-8 lead. Kiekhafer made sure that didn’t last long however, as he drained another triple at the buzzer and Colfax held an 11-9 lead.
It appeared the Vikings were going to take over the game from the paint when they went on an eight point run to start the second quarter. Kiekhafer and DeMoe both hit from close range and Olson added two buckets for a 19-9 lead. After Unity’s Zac Johnson hit two free throws, Kiekhafer canned his third shot from downtown and Colfax was up 22-11 with about two minutes left in the half. But the Eagles kept hanging around with three free throws by two different players before Olson dropped in one of two freebies himself. After missing the second one, DeMoe pulled down the rebound and put it back in, keeping the lead at 11. Unity came back with another bucket and the Vikings missed a three point attempt at the buzzer, sending them into the locker room up 25-16.
The Eagles had been launching three point shots throughout the first half and had hit just one, but they changed that pattern quickly when they came up with three of them in a span of 2:48 to knot the game at 25-25 to start the third quarter. Meade called a time out to settle his team down, and after DeMoe missed a couple of free throws, he redeemed himself by scoring off a Jarrod Rudi assist, then dove to the floor and produced a tie-up. Kiekhafer added another deuce for a four point Colfax lead but Aaron Koshatka (all 5’7” of him) drained his third trey of the quarter to bring the Eagles closer. Zivcic scored on a baseline drive and a minute later, tried to drive the same baseline but this time was called for a charge. The Colfax defense stepped up after Unity took the ball with .35 left and didn’t get a shot off, giving Colfax a slim 31-28 lead heading into the final stanza.
The Eagles scored from the paint right away to cut the Viking’s lead to one, but both teams went quiet on the offensive side until the 4:35 mark of the quarter. Unfortunately, it was Unity who scored to take a 32-31 lead, but that lead was erased when Olson found DeMoe underneath for a bucket. The Eagles failed to score on two straight possessions as Colfax controlled the defensive boards after Unity missed two shot attempts. Meade called another time out with 2:56 left in the game and with a one point lead, had his team go into a stall. It worked for a while, but the patient Eagles didn’t panic and ended up with the ball in their hands via a steal in the paint.
Unity now had the ball with 1:17 on the clock and Johnson put his team up 34-33 with a short jumper. Meade took his final timeout with 32.6 to go and the Vikings executed perfectly as Zivcic passed the ball into Olson who was promptly fouled. After calmly hitting both free tosses, Colfax now had a 35-34 lead with 23.2 left and it was Unity’s turn to call a time out with 17.5 to go. The Vikings had been called for only one foul in the whole half thus far, so having fouls to give, they started a string of them to take precious seconds off the clock. That strategy worked, taking 11 seconds off, but on an off balance three point attempt by the Eagles that missed everything, Oliver Raboin was in the right place at the right time and grabbed the offensive rebound and laid the ball in for what proved to be the winning basket. (It was also the only basket he made all game).With three seconds left and no time outs, Kiekhafer took the ball and sent a long three point shot (the only one he took in the second half) off the backboard to end the game.
“This was obviously a very disappointing end to our year but it was also a year with much to be proud of,” Meade said. “These guys handled adversity well throughout the year and competed every night.”
After combining for 41 of 55 free throws in their two regional games and 17 three pointers, Colfax was 3 for 6 at the foul line with four triples in this game. Unity was 5 for 6 at the charity stripe with five treys. Kiekhafer led the Vikings with 13 points and DeMoe added 10. Olson, Zivcic and Joe Wahl all concluded their high school careers.
“We will miss our three seniors,” Meade said. “They all made great contributions to our program and were wonderful to be around,” he concluded.
UNITY (36) Koshatka 5-0-0-14, L. Bader 4-2-2-10, Johnson 2-2-2-7, J. Ruck 1-0-0-2, Raboin 1-0-0-2, D. Ward 0-1-2-1
COLFAX (35) Kiekhafer 5-0-0-13, DeMoe 5-0-2-10, Olson 2-3-4-7, Zivcic 2-0-0-5
THREE POINTERS: Koshatka 4, Kiekhafer 3, Zivcic 1, Johnson 1