Rockets upset Dons
By Hub City Times staff
SPENCER – For just the ninth time in over six decades, the Spencer Rockets have defeated the Columbus Dons in high school boys basketball. In an epic, down-to-the-wire battle, the Rockets held on for a one-point 75-74 win over the Dons Dec. 6 at Spencer High School. The loss was the first in the Eastern Cloverbelt Conference for Columbus in nearly three years. The Dons had not lost a conference game since February 2017 – a 66-60 loss to Loyal.
For the Rockets, it was their first win over Columbus Catholic since 2014 and just their third since 2006.
“It could’ve gone either way, that’s for sure,” second-year Spencer Head Coach Clint Nieman said after the thrilling come-from-behind win, when the Rockets erased a 17-point first-half deficit and several 10-point deficits in the second half.
“These kids are still getting the hang of playing together, and rotating on defense. Columbus is such a great program. All these kids can shoot. And we knew coming in (Tom) Nystrom and (Wyatt) Drexler were going to be big point-getters for them. We lost them in the first half, and that was just unacceptable. We tightened down in the second half, and neither one of them hit a ‘three’ in the second half. They’re such good shooters, I didn’t want to see them guys beat us on the three-point line.
“I’m really proud of Hayden Bauman. Nystrom was his assignment, and he took that as a challenge. He was pretty ticked off in the first half giving up three (three-point baskets). He was just determined in that second half that he was going to take that away.”
After the Columbus lead grew briefly to 19 points in the first half, the Rockets used a 12-2 run to close the gap to seven at halftime, trailing 42-35.
A 5-0 run by the Rockets to start the second half made it a two-point game. Columbus responded, growing its lead back to 10 with less than 7:00 on the clock. The Spencer offense then went to work.
“At times we’re just not patient, and we take some bad shots,” Nieman added. “If we’re patient and work the ball around and get them a little out of sync, things open up, and we’ve just got to be aggressive enough to take advantage of that; and in the second half, I think we did a much better job of that than we did in the first half. I think we were more composed. We calmed down. We let the game come to us, and had a little more success in the second half.”
The Dons had a nine-point lead with just under three minutes left in the game. A 5-0 run by Spencer quickly cut the Columbus lead to four.
The Rockets grabbed the lead for good after Austin Bacon went 6-for-6 from the free throw line. After Nienast missed a layup, Hayden Bauman got fouled and made one of two free throws, giving Spencer a two-point lead with just a few ticks left on the clock.
Columbus still had a chance. Gage Stratman launched a three-quarter court inbounds pass in the direction of Wyatt Drexler on the other end. A Spencer defender deflected the pass out of bounds with just 0.6 seconds remaining.
Columbus sophomore Sam Wilczek caught the next inbounds pass and quickly threw up a desperation three-point attempt. The shot was way off the mark, perhaps because he was fouled on the play, giving the Dons a chance to win the game from the foul line with no time left on the clock. The new varsity starter missed the first, meaning the best Columbus could do now was tie the game and send it to overtime. The second shot went in, cutting the Spencer advantage to just one point. The third and final free throw hit the back of the rim, and bounced away, ending the game.
“It’s a big win for our program, as we try to build something and get our youth interested in Spencer basketball, and give the community something to hang their hat on when they come to a game. We want it to be exciting. We want them to enjoy it, and I’m just really proud of the kids and their effort,” Nieman added.
Austin Bacon led Spencer with 25 points – 14 of those during a 40-32 second-half run for the Rockets. Brett Kasch added 20. Eric Ehlert added 11 second-half points, including three three-pointers.
Junior Jadon Nienast led Columbus with 28 points, including 17 in the second half. Nystrom added 15, but he was held to just one field goal in the second half. Drexler and Eden Jacobson each added 12.
The Dons had won nine straight against Spencer, and 36 of the last 38 matchups dating back to 1995.
With the win, Spencer improved to 2-0, both conference wins. Columbus dropped to 2-2 with the loss, and 1-1 in conference play.
Colby keeps Columbus in check
Before an upset loss at Spencer on Dec. 6, the Columbus Catholic boys basketball team beat Colby 61-52 on Dec. 3 at Columbus High School in Marshfield.
The Dons were led by Nystrom with 29 points. He also tied a single-game Columbus record with nine three-point baskets, set by Jason Hertel in the 1991-92 season. Drexler added 12 for the Dons, who won their ninth straight versus Colby. The Hornets were led by Harley Schmelzer with 16 points. Noah Robida added 10.
Columbus hosts Granton on Dec. 12, while Colby plays at Gilman.