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Boys' basketball: Wildcats eye playoff run

Wildcat senior Ryan Spafford (10) muscles his way to the basket in the first half of the Cats' 64-50 victory over Fridley (Minn.) Thursday, Feb. 22, in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 3
River Falls senior Jaxon Knotek (2) slices through the lane for two of his game-high 22 points in the Wildcat boys basketball team's 64-50 victory over Fridley (Minn.) in the regular season finale Thursday, Feb. 22, in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 3
Wildcat sophomore Payton Flood (11) drives past a pair of Fridley (Minn.) defenders along the baseline in the first half of the Cats' 64-50 victory over the Tigers Thursday, Feb. 22, in River Falls. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 3

After defeating Fridley, Minn., 64-50, in the regular season finale for their sixth straight victory, Wildcat boys basketball coach Zac Campbell likes the way his team is playing heading into the postseason.

"Having not lost a game in the past month, our boys have no reason to fear any team they match up against," he said. "We have shown through the course of the season that we can beat quality teams on the road and we will have to do that in back-to-back nights to get us to sectionals in our extremely talented region."

The fifth-seeded Wildcats take a record of 14-8 into their Division 2 regional semifinal at No. 4 Tomah (14-8), a team that beat them on a last second shot in December, this Friday, March 2. The winner will face top-seed and defending state champion La Crosse Central (20-2) the following night in La Crosse.

The Cats tuned up for the playoffs by leading wire-to-wire in their 64-50 win over Fridley last Thursday, Feb. 22, in River Falls.

"A great way to send our seniors off our home floor for the last time," Campbell noted. "We went in to halftime with a 15-point lead against a team who was previously 10-1 to start the season."

River Falls led 38-23 at the break and led by as many as 19 in the second half before posting a 14-point win. Senior Jaxon Knotek led all scorers with 22 points in his final home game while freshman Zac Johnson hit four three-pointers and finished with 20. Senior Aaron Baillargeon contributed seven points and junior Adam Feyereisen had six points, seven rebounds and eight assists.

River Falls outrebounded Fridley, 31-28, and forced 13 turnovers while committing 10.

"A team that plays the pressure defense that Fridley brings and their aggressiveness to the glass, you always need to be competitive in the rebounding and turnover categories," Campbell said. "Winning both spoke in large part to how we were able to win the game."

Campbell said the Wildcats are looking forward to facing Tomah in the regional semifinals this Friday night.

"Tomah is a senior dominant team with a group of boys who many have been playing varsity basketball since they were sophomores," he said, pointing to 6-foot, 8-inch Josh Dahlke as their biggest threat. "They beat us over the holidays on a last second shot. I look forward to seeing how our boys respond."

The reward for the Wildcats if they get by Tomah will be fourth-ranked La Crosse Central the following night

"Not to look ahead as we have a physical game ahead of us on Friday," Campbell said. "La Crosse Central will present an athletic and skill combination that is tough to match. But we feel we have prepared ourselves through our conference and nonconference schedule to compete with teams of their caliber."

Bob Burrows

Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.

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