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Red Wing's Ben Miller rises for a shot over Austin's Gach Gach during the Packers' 53-37 victory Friday night. Miller had a team-high 1 points in the loss, the first of the Wingers' season. (Republican Eagle photo by Kyle Stevens)

Boys Basketball: Austin reigns over Red Wing

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AUSTIN, Minn. – The last echoes of the Star Spangled Banner were still bouncing off the walls of Austin High School’s gymnasium when Ty Buck hit a 3-pointer to open the scoring of Friday’s highly anticipated matchup between two top-five Class 3A teams.

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The raucous crowd, nearly all dressed in Packer red, were silenced. It would be the last time there was any concern for anyone backing Austin.

Gach Gach, Austin’s 6-foot-4 junior forward, hit back-to-back 3-pointers moments later to put the Packers up for good. Ajuda Nywesh, the game’s leading scorer with 21 points, sunk his first shot from downtown before a Zach Wessels field goal forced Red Wing head coach Doug Toivonen to call a timeout.

Try as they might, the third-ranked Wingers were unable to completely recover from that start in a 53-37 loss to the fifth-ranked Packers.

Red Wing, who had not lost a game this season prior to visiting Austin, shot 30 percent from the field, including 6 of 26 in the second half. The Wingers hit five 3-pointers, but missed 16. Taking into account the poor shooting, and the sluggish start, one would think the coach would take some positives from the game. Namely, with such a bad night coming against a ranked team, Red Wing trailed by only seven points late in the game.

Toivonen dismissed that notion immediately.

“We’re too good of a team to have a silver lining on a game-night like tonight,” Toivonen said. “If we have a bunch of sophomores and juniors, that’s one thing. But we’ve got a pretty experienced group, and we just didn’t play very well. That’s the bottom line. We didn’t make enough shots. Even though we were within seven, they were never nervous. We never made a run that I thought that they had to really play.”

In addition to the shooting woes, Austin slowed the game down toward the end of the first half. The Wingers had no answer for a Packers’ offense that usually is employed late in games.

“They really kind of took the air out of the ball and really limited possessions in the second half,” Toivonen continued. “And we just didn’t get enough possessions or didn’t get any momentum going to get back into it. It’s frustrating because I thought we started off so terrible. Who would know you would get behind by 10 right away and it would just stay that way the whole game. But that’s our own fault for starting off so poorly.”

With nine turnovers in the first half, Red Wing did themselves few favors even prior to getting a shot up. When it seemed like the Wingers were ready to make a late run, after Buck hit another 3-pointer to make it 44-37 with less than three minutes to play, Gach hit his own 3-pointer on the Packers’ next trip down the floor. Austin then hit all six free-throw attempts down the stretch to put the game away.

Should the two teams meet again, it is expected to be in the Section 1AAA championship game. And if they do, Toivonen and his staff will be prepared for an offense that caught them off guard.

“Get ahead,” Toivonen said about how to combat the frozen-molasses tempo the Packers showed. “I’m serious. I was a little surprised that they would play that way. They can do whatever they want to, obviously they’re very good. But I was a little surprised they weren’t more aggressive. I don’t know if that had to do with them being ahead by 10 and that was just the way they wanted to play or what. But obviously we would have to take a look at that. If they were to do that again, we would have to have some kind of adjustment. I’m just surprised they didn’t play at a faster pace … But that’s their prerogative. With a 10-point lead, I might have done the same thing.”

Ben Miller led the Wingers with 10 points while Buck finished with nine. No other Winger scored more than four points. Gach ended the game with 10 points and Wessels with nine.

Red Wing (7-1) will next face Waseca (8-1) at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 27 in the first game of the Owatonna Tournament. Owatonna and North St. Paul play immediately after the Wingers. The two losers will meet the following day at 6 p.m. The two winners will play Saturday at approximately 7:30 p.m.

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Kyle Stevens
Kyle Stevens is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, Kyle worked at the Owatonna People’s Press, as well as KWLM and KLFN in Willmar. You can contact Kyle by phone at (651) 301-7879, via e-mail at kstevens@republican-eagle.com, and follow him on Twitter @RE_KStevens.
(651) 301-7879
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