For the third consecutive year, the Northwestern High School boys basketball team saw its season end in the WIAA Division 3 sectional semifinals with a loss to Prescott.
The Cardinals defeated Northwestern 75-59 Thursday in River Falls and then topped Mauston 78-62 Saturday to earn their second trip to state in three years.
Northwestern, coming off its second Heart O’ North Conference championship season, trailed the entire game against Prescott. The Tigers cut the lead to four with 8:16 to play, but an 11-0 run by Prescott over the next five minutes sealed the victory.
Before time expired, however, the Tigers enjoyed one last highlight when senior Isaac Klobucher entered the game and scored the final basket of the night.
Klobucher’s first attempt just missed, but on the second try he drained a 3-pointer from the left wing to bring the Tiger bench to its feet.
Jeff Ryan, Prescott’s head baseball coach, sent an email to Northwestern coach David Gustafson after the game and described the play as the “highlight of the night.”
Ryan said it was especially memorable for him because his oldest brother, like Klobucher, had Down syndrome.
“Last night when No. 5, Mr. Klobucher, ran out on the floor during warm-ups, I, along with my two brothers who were also in attendance, cried,” Ryan wrote. “What a great moment it was for each of us. We saw our brother Stewart in that uniform — warming up, being ‘one of the guys.’ It is difficult for me to describe the feelings I and my family were experiencing last night.”
Gustafson said Klobucher’s 3-pointer gave a boost to the Tigers at the end of a hard-played game.
The senior’s teammates cheered his shot from the bench and, despite falling to Prescott, finished the game with smiles.
“(It was a) proud moment … when Isaac Klobucher came in the game and knocked down a 3-pointer in the final minute,” Gustafson said. “The way this group of players interacts with Isaac and makes him one of the guys on this team is truly a reflection of their character.
“It was a honor to work with such a great group of young men. There was never any bickering between players, they came to practice every day and did what was asked of them. We had a lot of fun together and they will truly be missed.”
Eight seniors played for Northwestern this year.
The Cardinals used a fast start Thursday to build an 18-8 lead in the first five minutes of play. Northwestern and Prescott then combined to score 21 points in the next 4:30.
Prescott’s 7-foot-1 center Owen Hamilton scored eight of his team’s 10 points during that stretch, while the Tigers received two baskets from Tyler Little and one each from Alex Tecker, Matt Lindsay and Riley Stowers.
Hamilton scored more than half of his team’s points in the first half and finished the night with a game-high 35 points. He also led the Cardinals with 13 rebounds.
“In the end we had no answer for Owen Hamilton; he was the difference in the game,” Gustafson said. “Of all the film I watched on Prescott, this was by far the best game he played. When I talked with a Prescott fan after the game he agreed that they also had not seen him play that well this year.
“We tried some different things to limit him, but then that opened up some other things for them.”
With 5:20 left in the half, Northwestern briefly cut the lead to single digits on an Anthony Lupa 3-pointer, but Prescott reclaimed a 34-24 lead on Hamilton’s shot off the glass with 4:46 to play. The Cardinals’ center went to the bench 20 seconds later with his second personal foul, and Stowers closed out the half with two 3-pointers and a layup to leave Northwestern trailing 39-32.
Hamilton had 20 points in the first half, while Stowers led Northwestern with 11.
The second half began with a 10-5 run by the Tigers to cut Prescott’s lead to 44-42.
“I am very proud of our team,” Gustafson said. “We played in a lot of close games this year, and I think that experience really helped. We don’t panic when we get down; we keep doing what we do and chip our way back into games, as was the case in the regional championship game against Hayward.”
Tecker opened the second-half with a mid-range basket from the side, and Kade Bartelt followed a Prescott 3-pointer with a pull-up jumper. Hamilton then scored his first points of the half before Northwestern answered with six straight points on Bartelt’s three-point play, Little’s layup and Tanner Klobucher’s free throw at 14:24.
Prescott worked its lead back to nine over the next three minutes, but Northwestern rallied again with four points from Klobucher and three from Tecker.
Tecker’s free throw at 8:16 left Northwestern trailing 58-54, but Prescott’s subsequent 11-0 run put the game out of reach.
Three Tigers scored in double figures, led by Tecker and Stowers with 13 points apiece. Bartelt added 11 points for Northwestern, and Little had eight.
Hamilton’s 35 points led the Cardinals, but Peter Brookshaw also reached double figures with 16 points.
“After ending your season there is a lot of disappointment,” Gustafson said. “I wanted to make sure our players knew how proud I was of them and what they were able to accomplish not only this year, but the past three years.
“With a team led by seniors Alex Tecker, Mike and Matt Lindsay, Tanner Klobucher, Riley Stowers and Tyler Little, who a majority of them have been on varsity for three years, they won three regional championships and two conference championships. Not many high school players have been able to achieve what they did during their career.”
Seniors playing their final game for Northwestern were Isaac Klobucher, Tanner Klobucher, Matt Lindsay, Mike Lindsay, Little, Stowers, Drew Stribley and Tecker.
Northwestern ends the season at 20-5.
Only three underclassmen will return for the Tigers next season — juniors Lupa and Bartelt and sophomore Brody Payton.
“With only three returning varsity players next year they will be expected to lead the team,” Gustafson said. “They gained a lot of experience and knowledge this past season and will be ready to uphold the tradition of Northwestern basketball.”
TIGER TALES: Stowers surpassed 1,000 career points during Thursday’s game. He becomes just the sixth Tiger to reach the 1,000-point mark and the second this season. Classmate Alex Tecker reached the 1,000-point milestone on Feb. 23. “Riley is a special player,” Gustafson said. “This past summer he spent a lot of time working on a pull-up jump shot, and that took his game to the next level. … Some of the things I saw him do in games and in practice would just make me shake my head a say, ‘Wow!’ I think he is still a fairly unknown player that doesn’t get the exposure that he deserves. He has the skills that make him a player who should be playing somewhere at the next level.”
Northwestern................. 32 27 — 59
Prescott......................... 39 36 — 75
Northwestern — Alex Tecker 13, Riley Stowers 13, Kade Bartelt 11, Tyler Little 8, Tanner Klobucher 5, Matt Lindsay 3, Anthony Lupa 3, Isaac Klobucher 3.
3-point goals — Bartelt 2, Stowers 2, Lindsay, Lupa, I. Klobucher.
Prescott — Owen Hamilton 35, Peter Brookshaw 16, Luke Murphy 9, Joe Roosen 7, Nick Simon 6, Brian Tayson 2.
3-point goals — Roosen 2, Simon 2, Murphy.