By Paul Lecker
All five local teams will begin postseason play at home this week as the 2019 WIAA boys basketball playoffs kickoff Tuesday, Feb. 26, with regional quarterfinals.
In Division 4, No. 8 seed Spencer (7-15) will host No. 9 Necedah (7-13) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in a regional quarterfinal. The winner moves on to a regional semifinal at No. 1 seed Auburndale (17-5) at 7 p.m. Friday.
Marshfield Columbus Catholic (20-2), which captured its fourth-straight Cloverbelt Conference East Division title, will host a Division 5 quarterfinal against Tri-County (1-21) at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Dons, as the No. 1 seed, will host through the regional final on Saturday should they keep winning.
Stratford (22-0) rolled through the regular season and the Marawood Conference South Division championship, and as a result is the top seed in its half of the Division 3 Sectional 1 bracket. The Tigers will host the winner of Tuesday’s quarterfinal between Viroqua (8-14) and Adams-Friendship (8-12) on Friday at 7 p.m. in a regional semifinal.
Marshfield (15-6) earned a share of the Wisconsin Valley Conference title this season and also earned a first-round bye. The sixth-seeded Tigers will host No. 11 Oshkosh West (8-14) in a Division 1 regional final at 7 p.m. Friday.
Spencer stumbled the second half of the season, losing nine of its final 10 game, five by 25 points or more as its faced some of the toughest competition in the area. The Rockets suffered losses to all three of the other local No. 1 seeds – Columbus Catholic, Auburndale and Stratford – during that stretch.
Juniors Austin Bacon (17.6 points per game), and Brett Kasch (10.2 ppg), and senior Nate Karau (10.8 ppg) have led the way for a Rockets’ team that averages 44 points per contest.
Auburndale also stumbled late in the year. Going into the final two weeks, the Apaches were in the mix for a possible share of the Marawood South title, but suffered three-straight conference losses, to Edgar, Stratford, and Marathon.
Colton Wright tops the team at 15.5 points per game and has made a team-high 50 3-pointers. Guard Cooper Weinfurter checks in at 15.2 points per game, while Hunter Wright (8.5), Carter Wilcott (7.8) and Fletcher Raab (6.7) all average more than 6 points per game for the Apaches.
“No. 1, we’ve got to start faster,” Auburndale coach Chad Weinfurter said. “We need some guys to step up. In the middle of the year when we made a nice run after our first game with Stratford, we had guys raise their level of play and now we’ve dropped down a bit. Teams are going to face -guard Cooper (Weinfurter) and Colton (Wright), so guys will need to step up. That will be most important.”
Stratford has been cruising since Day 1 this season. After a five-point win over Rib Lake in its opener, the Tigers had only one other game all year – Dec. 20 at Marathon – that it did not win by double digits.
Junior center Ben Barten (15.3 points per game) and junior forward Vaughn Breit (12.4 ppg) top the Tigers in scoring, but it isn’t just the two big guys contributing for Stratford.
Four others average more than 5 points per game and five different players have at least 15 3-pointers on the season.
“We’ve got to stay healthy,” Stratford coach Curt Schmidt said. “We’ve got to stay out of foul trouble and we just need to keep playing. You’ve got to have luck to get all the way through. You win the conference and go undefeated. That’s a great, great overall accomplishment. In the playoffs, things can go against you in a game. We’re not unbeatable. We’re beatable, especially when you go up the (Division) 3. You’re more beatable.”
Columbus Catholic boasts a roster with five senior starters, all of whom played big roles in pushing the Dons to the D-5 sectional final a year ago.
Bryce Furlinger (17.3 ppg, 13.5 rebounds per game), Noah Taylor (16.2 ppg), Jarred Mandel (15.7 ppg) and Ethan Meece (13.8 ppg) all average in double figures for the Dons, who average 74 points per game and have scored 78 points or more nine times this season.
“We have an experienced group, a group that has made some deep playoff runs, and we’re hopeful that experience will help,” Columbus coach Joe Konieczny said. “We have a very tough bracket. Second round on you’re playing teams that can make a deep run. It’s a game-by-game thing. Single-elimination is scary, but if we play the way that we can, we think we have a team that can win a few playoff games.”
Marshfield, which also made the sectional finals last year, started off slow at 3-4 before ripping off 10-straight wins. The Tigers ended the season with a win over rival Stevens Point to earn a share of the Wisconsin Valley Conference title with Merrill, Marshfield’s first WVC championship since 2010.
Senior guard Preston Wagner said the Tigers just need to keep doing the little things and that, hopefully, can lead to another prolonged playoff run.
“It’s really the everyday things,” Wagner said of the Tigers’ preparation for the playoffs. “Practicing hard, working out hard, believing in ourselves and what our coaches have to say to us.”
2019 WIAA Boys Basketball Playoffs
Tuesday, Feb. 26
Division 4 regional quarterfinal
Necedah (7-13) at Spencer (7-15), 7 p.m. (Highlights on ZaleskiSportsShow.com and Onfocus.news/sports, and respective Facebook pages; Radio: WDLB-AM 1450 and wdlbwosq.com)
Division 5 regional quarterfinal
Tri-County (1-21) at Marshfield Columbus Catholic, 7 p.m. (Highlights on ZaleskiSportsShow.com and Onfocus.news/sports, and respective Facebook pages)
Friday, March 1
Division 1 regional semifinals
Oshkosh West (8-14) at Marshfield (15-6), 7 p.m. (Livestream at Onfocus.news/sports; Radio: wdlbwosq.com)
Division 3 regional semifinals
Viroqua (8-14) or Adams-Friendship (8-12) at Stratford (22-0), 7 p.m. (Livestream at Onfocus.news/sports)
Division 4 regional semifinals
Spencer (7-15) or Necedah (7-13) at Auburndale (17-5), 7 p.m. (Highlights on ZaleskiSportsShow.com and Onfocus.news/sports, and respective Facebook pages)
Steve Pilz contributed to this story.