Thunder advance in playoffs, gets FC for third time this season

Tri-County Area Boys Basketball Review and Preview

Is the third time a charm or a fluke?

Is it an old wives tale or just a favorable match-up.

Osseo-Fairchild (15-10 overall) faces their rivals Fall Creek (15-9) for the third time this season this Friday, March 1 with the stakes this time very high in a WIAA Boys Basketball Division 4 Regional Semifinal at Fall Creek.

The match-up was set between the No. 5 seed Thunder and No. 4 seed Crickets took care of No. 12 seed Mondovi (2-23) in the first round-up Tuesday, Feb. 27 at O-F by a score of 77-50. OFHS used a big second have push, outscoring the Buffaloes 45-23. Now they face FC for the third time this season having swept the regular season games 81-75 back on Dec. 15 and 65-56 back on Jan. 30.

They say it's tough to beat a team three times in one season and Fall Creek certainly hopes that's the case. The Crickets were struggling the first time they met, playing without Bo Vollrath who still recovering from injury. He had only just returned to the line-up in the second go-around. Since then, the Crickets have won seven straight and since a win at Chippewa Falls McDonell back on Jan. 11, FC has won 12 of 14. Besides just having one of their best players back in the line-up, the Crickets showed some heart and grit rallying for a 70-68 last-second win at Neillsville last weekend in the Cloverbelt Conference Crossover Championships. They're also shooting the ball better from outside which they didn't do as well earlier in the season which helps them take advantage of their height with four players 6-5 and 6-6.

But O-F shot very well in both their wins over the Crickets, especially from outside and were able to use their speed to set-up the fast break before FC's defense could get set. Jack Steinke for O-F was a big reason for this. The junior wing player had 22 points against FC in their second contest. His hot shooting continued a few days ago as he pumped in 24 points in O-F's first-round win and got him named WHTL 102.3 FM's PLayer of the Game.

So the questions remain, is FC the better team on paper finally playing up to preseason projections or is O-F just not a good match-up for them at all regardless?

The answer will play in the regional finals Saturday, March 2. The other regional semi pits No. 1 seed and Dunn-St. Croix Conference champs Durand-Arkansaw (20-4) against No. 9 seed Whitehall (13-12) at 7 p.m. The Panthers had a first-round bye while the defending sectional champ Norse upended No. 8 seed Bangor on Tuesday 57-48. D-A is led in scoring, rebounding and assists by senior 6-6 forward Ethan Hurlburt, a two-time All D-SC player. His teammate, 5-10 junior guard Parker Almstead, is also averaging in double figures in scoring, Whitehall, the only team in the Large Dairyland Conference with a winning record this season, returns from their state tourney team from a year ago seniors Brayden Lisowski and Grant Olson. Lisowski leads the Norse in scoring and assists. FC and Osseo-Fairchild already have regular season wins on Whitehall.

The winner of that game plays at Osseo-Fairchild next week Thursday, March 7 in the WIAA Division 4 Eau Claire North Sectional semifinals which no doubt the Thunder would love to play host to.

Two other Tri-County Area Teams had their playoffs runs ended quickly. No. 11 seed Augusta (3-22) lost at No. 6 Eau Claire Regis Tuesday, Feb. 27 in a first-round Division 4 contest by a 78-38 score while No. 14 seed Eleva-Strum (4-21) was beaten 68-40 by No. 3 seed Port Edwards (19-6) at Port Edwards in Division 5 as the Blackhawks' Brynden Beck shot 11-of-19 from the field for a game-high 26 points.


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