The Northwestern High School boys basketball team took a giant step toward winning the Heart O' North Conference title with a 58-53 win over the Bloomer Blackhawks Friday, Feb. 8, in Maple.
The Tigers improved to 15-2 overall and remain undefeated in the HON at 11-0. Bloomer falls to 12-3 and 9-2.
Both teams have three conference games remaining.
The Tigers still have to play Cumberland (6-4), Barron (3-7) and Ladysmith (1-10), while the Blackhawks have games with Barron, Hayward (6-5) and Spooner (3-7).
Bloomer’s defensive scheme to was to stop Tiger leading scorer Sam Risley, and they did a pretty good job at it by holding him scoreless until he helped seal the victory with three free throws in the final 10 seconds.
Brody Payton and Andrew Klobucher picked up the scoring slack. Payton finished with 21 points, including 16 in the first half, and Klobucher had 15 points, 12 of which came in the second half.
Both teams got off to slow starts until a 3-point play by Payton and a 3-pointer by Klobuchar gave the Tigers a 6-0 lead 2:07 into the game.
Playton scored again making it 8-0 before Loren Stolt's basket and free throw got Bloomer on the board with 14:20 left in the opening half.
The Tigers gradually built a 17-7 lead on a Payton 3-pointer and the lead went 21-10 a few minutes later on a Jake Brill 3-pointer.
Bloomer cut the lead to 28-22 on a 3-pointer and two free throws by Zachary Ruf, but the half ended 34-22 in favor of the Tigers thanks to 3-pointers by Payton and Dayne Evanson.
Bloomer scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half to get within 36-32.
A Klobucher 3-pointer stopped the run, and a Payton basket a couple of minutes later, got the lead back up to 45-36.
A Bloomer 7-0 run made the score 45-43, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Klobucher gave the Tigers a 51-43 lead with around three minutes remaining.
Bloomer eventually got within 56-53, but Risley sealed the win with his three free throws.
The Tigers play at Merrill at 3:45 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, then play at Cumberland on Feb. 14.
Bloomer - Caleb Ruf 9, Johnny Bleskacek 3, Zachary Ruf 7, Austin Thur 2, Bradley Sarauer 22, Loren Stolt 10. Totals: 18 14-19 53.
3-point goals - C. Ruf, Bleskacek, Z. Ruf.
Northwestern - Brody Payton 21, Jake Brill 7, Andrew Klobucher 15, Sam Risley 3, Dayne Evanson 6, Carsen Nykanen 6. Totals: 19 11-20 58.
3-point goals - Klobucher 4, Payton 2, Evanson 2, Brill.