By Cara L. Dempski
ELK MOUND — The question on everyone’s mind here last Friday night was “did he travel? Or, was he fouled?”
The “he” in question was Elk Mound senior Noah Zurbuchen, who had just dropped in a bucket that would have been good for two with just 3.6 seconds left in the game. The Mounders and Railroaders were tied at 55 when it happened.
The Elk Mound crowd loudly disagreed with the official’s call of no score and traveling, believing Zurbuchen had been fouled on his way up for the shot, and should have been given both the field goal and a foul shot from the charity stripe.
What they got instead was an inbounds pass from the Railroaders that wound up down the court and in the hands of Altoona sophomore Jake Nelson, who put up an arcing shot for two, and watched as the ball fell through the net at the same time the buzzer sounded for a 57-55 Altoona’s win over the Mounders in a Division 3 regional boys’ basketball semifinal contest played March 3 at Elk Mound.
It was the second time in two weeks that the Mounders had been beaten at home by the Railroaders, who won the February 20 non-conference tilt 52-34.
Elk Mound head coach Mike Kessler seemed unphased by the loss, but was still a little stunned.
“It was a good game for the people who paid to get in here. They certainly got their money’s worth,” Kessler said. “I’m really proud of this team, I just feel really bad for them. I feel this really could have gone our way.”
The coach acknowledged that it would have been the Elk Mound team and fans celebrating the win if the traveling call had been a foul instead. Kessler also said he and the team knew the game would likely be a game of scoring runs, but the early minutes of the contest indicated a cat-and-mouse style of play.
The Rails opened scoring at 17:10 with a two-point shot from Evan Olson. Elk Mound answered about 20 seconds later with an outside shot from Ben Lambele for three. The style of play continued until 14:58, when Altoona’s Brett Platzek drained a three to tie things up at 5 each.
Elk Mound found its footing and went on a 7-0 run between 14:37 and 13:21 to lead 12-5, but Altoona responded with a pair of field goals to narrow the gap to 12-9 before the Mounders went on another short run to make the scoreboard read 16-9.
Altoona used the final nine minutes of the first half to grind out to a 28-22 lead before heading to the locker room for the halftime break. The Mounders made a concerted effort to mitigate the Railroaders’ offense in the second half, with some success, as they regained the lead on a two-point shot off the glass from Chandler Schreiber with only 2:05 left to play.
Senior Dane Lew then drew a foul from Platzek and hit one of his two tries to make the score 55-53 with 1:08 left to play. The Rails’ Jacob Chilson knotted the score at 55 just seconds later, but there was still enough time for Elk Mound to set up one last play.
That was when Zurbuchen was nailed with his traveling call.
The game’s highest score belonged to Elk Mound’s Lambele, who scored 20 points. Schreiber netted 14 points, Lew earned 12, Pritchard picked up six with a pair of threes, and Zurbuchen hit a single three-point shot in the game.
Altoona’s highest-scoring players were Platzek and Evan Olson, both of whom scored 12 against Elk Mound.
Kessler had nothing but compliments for the outgoing seniors after the game.
“I just can’t say enough. They’re good basketball players, but they’re just so pleasant to work with,” Kessler explained. “Being brand new this year, and them being really comfortable with Coach Hahn, for them to welcome me and work as hard as they did, they never questioned anything.”
The Elk Mound coach went on to say the positive attitude and ability to work with any new coach is something not many high school athletes possess. He seemed glad of how well the team worked with him, especially the seniors.
“As great as they are as basketball players, they’re even more tremendous young men,” Kessler finished. “I wish them nothing but the best.”
The Mounders finished the season with an overall record of 17-6.
ALTOONA 57, ELK MOUND 55
Altoona…………………………….28 29 — 57
Elk Mound………………………..22 33 — 55
TEAM STATISTICS (FG-FT-F-T)
Altoona (15-6-13-57) E. Olson 6-0-3-12, J. Nelson 0-2-0-8, J. Chilson 4-1-3-9, D. Ystebo 5-1-4-11, B. Platzek 0-0-1-12, M. Adrian 0-2-1-5.
Elk Mound (14-6-10-55) D. Lew 4-1-1-12, C. Pritchard 0-0-1-6, B. Lambele 5-4-2-20, D. Black 0-0-1-0, C. Schreiber 5-1-4-14, N. Zurbuchen 0-0-1-3.
THREE-POINTERS A — M. Adrian 1, J. Nelson 2, B. Platzek 4; EM — D. Lew 1, C. Pritchard 2, B. Lambele 2, N. Zurbuchen 1, C. Schreiber 1.