Austin Packers boys basketball team falls in heartbreaking fashion to Winona 61-58 in Section 1AAA semifinals Saturday night

The Austin Packers boys basketball team, the No. 2 seed in the Section 1AAA tournament played host to the No. 3 seeded and Big 9 Conference rival Winona Winhawks in the section semifinals in front of a packed house at Packer Gym Saturday night.  In the second meeting of the regular season between the two teams in Winona on February 17th, Winhawk guard Brian Casselius drained a 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds left to lift the Winhawks to a 63-62 victory, and Saturday evening’s game would end in even greater heartbreak for the Packers as a 40 footer from guard Charles VandeBerg from between the circles at the overtime buzzer lifted Winona to a 61-58 victory.

The Winhawks went on a 9-3 run to claim a 29-23 lead at the half, and they pushed their lead to nine early in the second half at 34-25 before Austin answered back with a 10-0 run to reclaim the lead at 35-34.  The two squads then battled back and forth with neither side holding a lead larger than two points until senior guard Jacob Herrick drilled a 3-pointer to give the Packers a 50-47 lead.  Winona guard Brian Cassellius answered back seconds later with a 3-pointer of his own to tie the game at 50 apiece, and it was Austin working their way in front 54-52 on a pair of free throws from Herrick with just over :30 seconds left when Winhawk guard Isaiah Bell was fouled going to the basket with :11 seconds to go, sending him to the foul line in a one-in-one situation.  Bell drained both free throws to knot the game at 54 apiece, and the Packers then brought the ball across the timeline and called timeout with :07 seconds left.  Austin was able to get the ball to guard Ater Manyuon on the inbounds play, but a contested runner by Manyuon was no good at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.

Senior guard Jack Lang drained one of two free throws for the Packers in the bonus situation for the first point of the extra session, but Bell went back to the line for Winona a short time later and drained two more free throws to put the Winhawks ahead, 56-55.  VandeBerg later hit a jumper to increase the Winhawk lead to 58-55, but Manyuon answered back for Austin with a deep 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the game at 58.  VandeBerg missed a 16-foot jump shot on Winona’s next possession, and with time ticking down, Manyuon pulled in the rebound, sprinted up the floor and found Herrick open in the left corner for a 3-pointer, but the shot was no good, the Winhawks garnered the rebound, brought the ball over the timeline and called timeout with :08 seconds left.  Cassellius inbounded for VandeBerg, who proceeded to dribble the ball out high to the right side, came off a screen from forward Jackson Harvey, worked between the circles and let fly with a 40-footer that found nothing but net at the buzzer to give Winona the win.

Herrick, who was one of 12 seniors playing their final game on their home floor led Austin in scoring with 25 points, Manyuon wound up with four 3-pointers for 12 points, senior forward Buai Duop tallied six points, senior guard Jack Lang scored five points, senior forward A’Triel Terry chipped in four points, and senior guard Morries Jabateh and junior guard Isaac Osgood both scored three points for the Packers Saturday night.

Austin’s season ends with a record of 17-11, while Winona, who won their fourth in a row will take a 15-13 record up against top-seeded Stewartville next Friday night for the Section 1AAA title at the Mayo Civic Center Arena in Rochester, as the Tigers held off No. 4 seed Byron Saturday night 42-37.