Jan. 14, 2020

By Scott Williams

STEVENS POINT – For a team that has been a stranger to close games this season, Wausau East executed perfectly at the end of regulation.

A well-designed inbounds pass set up unstoppable Gabe Krueger for a short layin to force overtime.

The execution by the young Lumberjacks at the end of overtime, however, turned out to less than ideal.

The failure to get off a good look at a potential tying 3-pointer proved costly for East in a heartbreaking 71-70 overtime loss to SPASH in a Wisconsin Valley Conference matchup.

“Every game we’ve been in this year, we’ve blown them out or gotten blown out,” East coach Troy Pieper said. “So that was the first time where we got a little tight under the collar.

“That was a lot of guys jumping into cold water (in a close game) and I thought coming out alright. It hurts, we can’t be satisfied with a loss. But we didn’t buckle and that showed a lot to me.”

After a timeout with 15.5 seconds and facing a 71-68 deficit in overtime, East worked the ball around the perimeter. Everyone seemed hesitant to take a shot.

Jack Ohrmundt eventually heaved a desperation three from the top of the key that was off target. Krueger grabbed the rebound and scored as time expired.

Krueger, who recently surpassed the 1,000-point career scoring milestone, was a one-man wrecking crew all night. The 6-foot-6 senior finished with 43 points.

“Gabe is one heck of a player. He’s a load down there. He’s bigger than us. He’s stronger than us, and he plays extremely hard all of the time, SPASH coach Jon Krull said.

The Panther entered the game without leading scorer Evan Vollendorf who has missed some time recently with an ankle injury.

Adding insult to injury, senior Austin Beyer left the game in the second half after he tweaked his ankle.

In need of players to step up, Bryce Pelky answered the call by draining a 3-pointer to open the scoring in overtime. SPASH never trailed again.

Sophomore Nathan Streveler helped spark a second-half comeback with 26 points. Gavin Hyer and James Jacobs helped out with 17 and 16 points, respectively.

“This week we talked about find a way to get it done. We found a way,” Krull said. “To have a guy like Pelky knock that shot down, that takes courage.

“A win is a win, but we have to get better.”

The Lumberjacks were the better team in the opening half.

Krueger was destroying SPASH in the paint, tallying 24 points on 12-for-12 shooting from the field.

When he wasn’t working his magic in the lane, East complemented Krueger with a solid shooting performance from behind the arc.

Ben Cayley, who finished with 11 points, Jake Thome and Zidane Charles found a rhythm and routinely knocked down 3-points. A Cayley trey at the buzzer gave The Lumberjacks a 38-27 lead at the break.

East maintain a double digit cushion early in the second half. However, it was only a matter of time before SPASH mounted a rally.

In the end, the Lumberjacks couldn’t quite hold off the Panthers.

“We knew they would come back and answer at some point. They did, but I’m extremely proud of the guys for not buckling,” Pieper said. “They grew a lot tonight.

“We probably made a statement to the league we’re not a pushover. We can compete and we will compete. Now it’s just a matter of learning and finishing the next time we’re in this situation.”

Wausau East 38 28 4 – 70
SPASH 27 39 5 – 71

WAUSAU EAST (70): Ben Cayley 11, Jack Ohrmundt 3, Zidane Charles 3, Jake Thome 10, Gabe Krueger 43.

SPASH (71): Brenden Klish 1, James Jacobs 16, Austin Beyer 2, Gavin Hyer 17, Nathan Streveler 26, Bryce Pelky 9.

3-pointers: Wausau East 7 (Cayley 3, Ohrmundt, Charles, Thome 2); SPASH 7 (Jacobs 3, Streveler 3, Pelky).