One game at a time for Northwestern
MAPLE — With the playoffs under way, the Northwestern High School boys basketball team isn’t looking for perfection. The Tigers just want to extend their season, one game at a time.
“Right now it’s about survival,” NHS coach David Gustafson said.Northwestern kept its season alive Tuesday night with a 57-49 victory over St. Croix Central in the opening round of the WIAA Division 3 playoffs. The Tigers led by 13 after three quarter but nearly let the victory slip away when St. Croix Central closed the gap to four with about three minutes to play.“It wasn’t the prettiest game of the year by any means, but we survived and are taking the next step to play for a championship,” Gustafson said.Northwestern led 33-28 at halftime and held the Panthers to five points in the third quarter to take a 46-33 lead.For the first four minutes of the final quarter the Tigers maintained their double-digit lead, but with 3:38 to play Evan Nielsen knocked down a 3-pointer to kick off a 8-0 run for the Panthers. Nielsen followed his 3-pointer with a floating layup and added a second 3-pointer at 2:53 to cut Northwestern’s lead to 49-45.The Panthers’ comeback ended there, though, as seniors Brayden Bartelt and Jeffery Priem combined to score six unanswered points for Northwestern.“Those two have definitely been our go-to guys offensively,” Gustafson said. “Brayden had an off night offensively just because of the defense that they were playing, but when we need a bucket, lately he’s been the guy to go to.”Bartelt finished with 11 points for the Tigers behind Nate Pearson (13) and Trevor Paulus (21). Both Pearson and Paulus saw limited minutes, Paulus after suffering a bloody nose early in the fourth quarter, and Pearson after picking up two quick fouls in the first half.Pearson sat out much of the second quarter, and Gustafson said the Tigers missed his presence on the boards.“I think in the second quarter, they outrebounded us 11-to-1,” Gustafson said. “He had to sit out a huge chunk of that time because he had two fouls.“He’s definitely a hard worker, scrappy, fights for everything. He’s a big part of us having some success this year.” Regional semifinalsThe Tigers play at Ellsworth at 7 p.m. today in a regional semifinal game. The winner will advance to Saturday’s regional final against the winner today’s match-up between No. 1 seed Somerset and No. 8 seed St. Croix Falls. Saturday’s game will begin at 7 p.m.Ellsworth (11-8) earned the No. 4 seed and had a bye in the first round. The Panthers were in contention for the Middle Border Conference title but ended the regular season on a three-game losing streak to finish third in the standings.The Panthers have a number of quick guards who can take over the game, and Northwestern will have to account for Ellsworth’s 6-foot-5 center Will Huppert.“Their offense is run through their big kid,” Gustafson said. “If we can contain him, we have a good shot.”Kyle Murphy also provides some height for the Panthers, and Chrystian Kulow has a sharp eye from the perimeter.The game, Gustafson said, will likely come down to defense. The Tigers were caught off guard by St. Croix Central’s match-up zone on Tuesday, but Gustafson feels better prepared to face Ellsworth.“I have seen Ellsworth play, so we have a little better idea of what to expect,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, they play mostly man-to-man. We’re pretty good against man, so hopefully that’s what we see.” St. Croix Central 18 10 5 16 — 49Northwestern 22 11 13 11 — 57St. Croix Central — Evan Nielsen 13, Josh Albright 11, Tyler Anderson 7, DJ Holland 5, Jason Matteson 4, Josh Freyholtz 4, Tony Berg 3, Doug Cottrell 2.3-point goals — Nielsen 3, Anderson 2, Holland, Matteson.Northwestern — Trevor Paulus 21, Nate Pearson 13, Brayden Bartelt 11, Alex Tecker 6, Jeffrey Priem 5 Carter Shelafoe 1.3-point goals — Priem, Bartelt, Paulus.