By Paul Lecker
WAUSAU – For the third year in a row, Marshfield Columbus Catholic will be playing for a berth in the WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament.
The Dons trailed for all of 17 seconds on Thursday night, and used a 20-5 run midway through the second half to pull away and defeat Almond-Bancroft 63-42 in a WIAA Division 5 sectional semifinal at Wausau East High School.
Columbus Catholic (24-2) will play Green Bay N.E.W. Lutheran (16-10) in a Division 5 sectional final at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Wausau West. The game is a rematch of last year’s sectional final, won by N.E.W. Lutheran, 57-56.
Columbus, vying for a second trip to state in the past three seasons, used an aggressive matchup zone defense with one thing in mind – limit shots for Almond-Bancroft’s top scorers Noah Kollock and Cade Lamb.
The Dons did just that, holding Kollock, who averaged 19.7 points per game this season to just eight. Lamb ended up with 15, but both shot just 4-for-13 from the field. Overall, A-B shot just 29 percent (16 of 54) from the field.
“We’ve seen this team a lot of the years, and Coach (Curt) Lamb is just a really great coach,” Columbus Catholic coach Joe Konieczny said. “He’s got his son (Cade) and Kollock, who are just fantastic players, so we knew we had our work cut out for us.
“We lost Lamb a few times, and he made us pay with deep threes. Those two are as good as it gets in our division, so I’m proud of the way our boys played and communicated.”
The Eagles (22-4) held their only lead at 4-2, which Jarred Mandel quickly erased with a 3-pointer. A three-point play by Matt Lukas and a basket by Elijah Kollock tied the game at 9-9 with 8:41 to go in the first half. That was the last time Columbus was not in the lead.
The Dons went on an 11-2 run, keyed by a 3-pointer from Tom Nystrom and two baskets from Ethan Meece.
Columbus took a 24-18 lead into halftime and never trailed again.
“We did a good job rebounding and we struggled early, but we had a couple of runs where we got out in transition and knocked down some threes that were open,” Konieczny said.
Almond-Bancroft scored the first four points in the second half to close to within two, but as was the case in the first half, the Dons struck back.
Mandel scored seven of his 13 points in a 3½-minute stretch to go up 36-27. After a 3-pointer by Lamb for the Eagles, the Dons clamped down again, going on a 20-5 run that put the game out of reach.
Meece hit a 3-pointer, Noah Taylor made three baskets, and Mandel drilled another 3 to help the Dons build a 52-33 lead with 7:33 left.
Meece, who had a game-high 19 points, added another hoop to finish off the run and put Columbus up by 21 points.
Taylor finished with 14 points, and Bryce Fuerlinger had 10 points and 17 rebounds for the Dons, who made 16 of 26 field goal attempts in the second half.
“Our length kind of bothered their shooters at times,” Konieczny said. “Kollock, we probably haven’t been as worried about as a guy as we were about him. He’s so good. Lamb can flat out shoot it too. We practiced the last three days on getting out on those guys and making sure we did what we had to do to communicate, and maybe let someone else try to beat us.”
Dons 63, Eagles 42
Almond-Bancroft 18 24 – 42
Columbus Catholic 24 39 – 63
ALMOND-BANCROFT (42): Dylan Omernick 1-1 0-0 2, Jon Perrin 0-3 0-0 0, Zach Bunders 4-14 0-1 9, Cade Lamb 4-13 4-4 15, Alex Burns 0-0 0-0 0, Daniel Baumgartner 0-0 0-0 0, Noah Kollock 4-13 0-0 8, Matt Lukas 1-3 1-1 3, Jake Stuebs 0-0 0-0 0, Jackson Beggs 1-2 0-0 2, Elijah Kollock 1-5 0-0 2, Gage Meddaugh 0-0 1-2 1, Thomas Hunt 0-0 0-0 0, Connor Newby 0-0 0-0 0. FG: 16-54. FT: 6-8. 3-pointers: 4-26 (Lamb 3-10, Bunders 1-7, E. Kollock 0-1, Perrin 0-1, Lukas 0-2, N. Kollock 0-5). Rebounds: 29 (Lamb 9). Turnovers: 10. Fouls: 12. Fouled out: none. Record: 22-4.
COLUMBUS CATHOLIC (63): Noah Taylor 6-13 2-5 14, Will Boyer 0-0 0-0 0, Jadon Nienast 0-0 0-0 0, Tom Nystrom 2-3 0-0 5, Bryce Fuerlinger 4-9 2-7 10, Zach Olson 0-0 0-0 0, Eden Jacobson 0-0 0-0 0, Gage Stratman 0-0 0-0 0, Ethan Meece 9-13 0-0 19, Kellen Heinzen 1-1 0-0 2, Jarred Mandel 5-13 0-0 13. FG: 27-52. FT: 4-12. 3-pointers: 5-15 (Mandel 3-10, Nystrom 1-2, Meece 1-2, Taylor 0-1). Rebounds: 35 (Fuerlinger 17). Turnovers: 10. Fouls: 7. Fouled out: none. Record: 24-2.