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By Marlys Kruger
The Colfax boys were firing on all cylinders when they hosted the Augusta Beavers in a first round WIAA Division 4 regional contest, resulting in a 75-54 win Tuesday, February 16.
But three days later they saw their season come to an end by the number one seed Fall Creek Crickets, 64-43. Fall Creek then defeated Dunn-St. Croix Conference Champion Spring Valley the following night in the regional championship game.
With the playoff split, the Vikings capped the 2020-21 season with an overall mark of 7-12 and finished in sixth place in the Dunn-St. Croix with a 6-8 record.
This game was the first regional tournament win for Vikings’ first-year coach Mark Noll. Augusta was 4-17 entering the game and were winless in the Large Dairyland Conference at 0-10.
Things got off to a fast start for the Vikings when Caden Erickson and Tanner Hoffman both scored from under the hoop. Erickson came up with five more points on a deuce and a trey for a 9-2 Colfax lead. Drew Gibson, Hoffman and Gibson again all hit from close range to up the lead to 16-6
The points kept coming with Noah Heidorn canning a pair of free tosses and Tristan Lenz added a bucket from the paint to make it 20-8.
Erickson was on a roll after hitting another triple, and after Hoffman scored in the lane, it was Erickson again with a fast break layup, another shot from behind the arc and yet another fast break bucket to make it 32-14.
Hunter Rebak got into the scoring action with a tough shot from under the hoop and Erickson’s free toss gave the Vikings a comfortable 35-20 advantage at the break.
“Like I said before, when we make shots early, it gives our players confidence, and that’s what happened tonight,” coach Noll said. “Our team came out with a lot of energy and played like it could be their last game of the season,” he added.
Erickson began the second half where he left off, with another bucket, this time on an offensive rebound. After Lenz added three points on a bucket and subsequent free throw, Nate Hydukovich added his name to the scorebook with a shot from behind the circle to make it 43-24.
Hydukovich followed up by connecting for a couple of free tosses, Hoffman scored on a put back and Rebak added another deuce from close range and the advantage was up to 20 points at 49-29.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Erickson scored again on a fast break layup, then zipped a pass to Rebak for another bucket. The Beavers had some scoring chances at the free throw line but were not connecting and with the Vikings snaring the rebounds, it allowed them to keep scoring.
Rebak returned the favor to Erickson, finding him with a slick pass and another easy bucket and Lenz added a deuce off a fast break, then assisted Erickson for what would be his 26th and final points of the night.
With the score at 59-32, coach Noll made sure his reserves saw some playing time. Freshman guard Elijah Entzminger made a name for himself, starting with a fast break layup off an assist from senior Gibson. Entzminger learned the art of drawing fouls rather quickly, resulting in him going to the charity stripe five times where he canned seven-of-eight shots
Senior Daniel Cuaquehua hadn’t seen a lot of playing time this season but connected for his first triple of the year, and after another Entzminger drive through the lane for two points, senior Max Knudson drained a pair of final free throws to become the tenth player to score points for Colfax in the 21-point victory.
Besides Ericksons 26 points, Entzminger finished with 11 points and Hoffman eight. Colfax was 15-for-26 at the free throw line while Augusta was eight-for-19.
“Our seniors did a great job of keeping the energy level up the second half,” Noll said. “We missed some free throws (eight) the first half but came back and shot better the second half. Having several players rebounding and scoring is going to be important when we play at Fall Creek,” he added.
The Crickets had been ranked as high as number six by Wissports.net earlier in the season and won the Western Cloverbelt Conference at 11-1. They are led by Jayden Fitch who averages 20 points a game along with Luke Olson with a 14 point average. Four of their six top players average 6’ 4” or better and according to coach Noll, they were big, strong, athletic, and well coached.
Colfax hung with the Crickets through the first half and had the lead a couple of times. They were up 9-8 before Fall Creek scored to take a 10-9 lead, but Erickson knocked down a triple to put the Vikings back up 12-10.
The Crickets knotted it at 12-12 and although several turnovers on the offensive end resulted in no scoring for Colfax, their defense was holding their own and the Crickets were not putting the ball in the basket either. With just over five minutes left in the half, Fall Creek hit a pair of free throws and a bucket for a 16-12 advantage but the Vikings hit from close range to get back within two points.
A Cricket triple increased their lead to 19-14, then Rebak canned two free throws for the Vikings. After four more Fall Creek points, Gibson drained a shot from behind the arc and the Vikings were down 21-19.
Perhaps a turning point in the game came about when the Vikings followed up with a steal and had a clear route to the basket, but the layup was missed along with two put back attempts which would have tied the game. The Crickets wasted no time snaring the rebound and drawing a foul, then hit a free throw and seconds later, swiped the ball and scored on a fast break putting them up 24-19 at the break.
“We felt there were some things that would have given us a chance to either be tied or up at halftime. We missed some shots and had a couple of turnovers that hurt us,” Noll said. “It was a very physical game. Fall Creek had only two fouls in the first half as the officials were letting us play, which is a good thing,” he added.
The start of the second half proved to be a disaster for the Vikings when the Crickets stormed out of the locker room and went on a 13-point run in a matter of minutes to make it 37-19.
The run was finally broken by a Colfax bucket and free throw but at this point the Crickets were clicking and they gradually increased their lead to 20 points at 50-30.
The Vikings employed a full court press to try and slow things down but Fall Creek didn’t have much of a problem breaking it and ended up going to the foul line several times to finish the game off.
“They came at us really hard to start the second half and we did not respond the way we would have liked,” Noll said. “Part of that was we were running out of gas because it was a very hard, physical played game and we just didn’t have the energy to keep up against a bigger and deeper team. I love the energy and effort the boys gave us all night,” he concluded.
Erickson finished with 13 points to lead the Vikings, Heidorn tallied nine, Rebak eight, Gibson five, Hoffman and Entzminger three, and Hydukovich two. The Vikings connected four times from behind the arc and were seven-for-eight at the free throw line. As usual, Fitch was high man for the Crickets with 20 points and his team shot nine-of-16 from the stripe.