The Austin Packers boys’ basketball team was looking to keep their season alive Wednesday afternoon at the Ganglehoff Center at Concordia/St. Paul University versus Section 8AAA champion St. Cloud Tech, and although the Packers led from the start of the game until the 11:54 mark of the second half, the Tigers reeled off a 21-5 run to take a lead they would not relinquish in a 68-63 win.
Austin jumped out to a 14-3 lead, capped off by a 3-pointer from junior guard Cham Okey, and after a Tiger timeout, the Packers took what turned out to be their biggest lead of the game at 13 points at 16-3 when junior guard Jack Lang scored on a layup off of a St. Cloud Tech turnover with 11:31 left in the first half. The Tigers, though, curbed the Austin momentum with an 8-2 run of their own to cut the lead to 18-11 with 7:37 left in the half, but Austin pushed the lead back to double digits at 22-11 on a layup from senior forward Victor Idris with 6:00 left. Tech came back with an 8-2 run, capped off by a pair of free throws from senior guard Donald Ferguson to cut Austin’s lead to 24-19, but Austin pushed their lead back to nine at 32-23 on a layup from junior forward Dane Mitchell on an assist from junior guard Ater Manyuon with :44 left in the half. A 3-pointer from sophomore guard Warsame Mahat for the Tigers just before the buzzer cut Austin’s lead to six at the half at 32-26.
St. Cloud Tech came out with jump to start the second half and a quick 6-0 run cut Austin’s lead to two points at 32-30, but the Packers rallied back with an 11-5 run of their own, capped off with a second-chance layup from Okey to make the score 43-35 with 11:54 left. It was at that point in the second half where the Tiger comeback started as their swarming man-to-man defense held Austin to only five additional points over the next 8:52, and their offense, led by sophomore guard Tameron Ferguson, who scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half rallied for a 21-5 run to give Tech a 56-48 lead with 3:44 left. The Tigers pushed their lead to as large as 10 at 60-50 with 2:27 to go, but Austin wasn’t done yet as the Packers countered with a 9-2 run of their own, capped off by a layup from Idris to make it a one-possession lead at 62-59 with :51 seconds left. After two St. Cloud Tech free throws from Ferguson pushed the lead back to five at 64-59, two free throws from senior guard Gage Manahan made it a one-possession lead again at 64-61 with only :25 left. The Packers came close twice down the stretch to forcing turnovers that would have given them possession of the ball with a chance to tie, but the Tigers were able to keep possession and Austin was forced to foul to stop the clock.. Four more free throws from Ferguson in the last :17 seconds sealed the win for the Tigers, and date with Mound-Westonka in the consolation final.
Jack Lang scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half to lead Austin in scoring Wednesday afternoon, while Gage Manahan tallied 11 points, six rebounds, a team-high seven of Austin’s 17 steals in the game, plus four assists, Cham Okey chipped in 11 points and four rebounds, Victor Idris scored 10 points and led the Packers in rebounding with eight, Ater Manyuon put up seven points, three assists, two rebounds and four steals, Kaden Murley tallied four points and Jared Lillemon and Dane Mitchell each scored two points apiece for the Packers, who wound up a fantastic season with a record of 17-14.
The end of the game also signaled the end of an era for Austin boys basketball as it was the final game in the long and illustrious coaching career of Kris Fadness, who in a 29-year career, four with Caledonia and 25 with Austin compiled an unbelievable record of 504-266. Fadness started coaching in Caledonia in 1993 and led the Warriors to three state tournament appearances, including a State Class AA title in 1997 and an overall record of 97-11. He the came to Austin in 1998, where he proceeded to rack up the most wins in Austin High School history, and he took the Packers to seven state tournaments, including runner-up finishes in 2013, 2014 and 2017, and a third place finish in 2019.