Boys Basketball: Bombers squeeze out a victory
CANNON FALLS - Cannon Falls waited all season for Alex Bultena to break out and showcase his talent.
Bultena waited until the perfect time: Monday's Section 2AA playoff opener against Kenyon-Wanamingo.
The Bombers' junior scored 11 points in a four-minute span during the first half as Cannon Falls overcame a slow start and held on for a 37-34 victory against the Knights.
"I thought Alex was a big difference in that first half, he really sparked us," Bombers' head coach Josh Davisson said. "We've waited for the day when that light bulb goes off. If he gets his feet set, he's lights out."
Bultena was the only player to score in double figures for third-seeded Cannon Falls with 11 points. He also had four rebounds.
"It was something that maybe K-W didn't plan for," Davisson said of Bultena. "We're fully aware that Alex has that kind of ability."
The Bombers (17-10) struggled mightily from the field on Monday, finishing 13-for-43 and 2 of 11 from behind the 3-point line. Noah Callister scored two points but grabbed 10 rebounds, and Tanner Jackson had four points and nine rebounds, including four offensive boards for Cannon Falls.
Zach Quaale led all scorers with 12 points for K-W (8-16), and Sam Roosen had seven points and five rebounds. Brad Rostad had eight points and 12 rebounds in the loss.
"Anything in the paint he owned," Davisson said of Rostad. "He was a beast."
The Bombers' offensive woes started immediately as they turned the ball over four times in the first three minutes of the game and trailed 9-3 with 11 minutes, 16 seconds left in the first half. Facing the Knights for the third time this season, Cannon Falls had a tough time figuring out K-W's zone defense.
"(Roosen) was out last time and that made a big difference in how they do things," Davisson said. "We were content to stand and throw instead of attack."
Luckily, the Bombers are built on defense and stayed close by keeping K-W to three field goals in the final 6:25 of the first half. It also helped that Bultena went on a 9-2 run of his own for a 3-minute stretch in the first half to pull Cannon Falls within 15-14.
"I was feeling really good in warm-ups," Bultena said. "I just made good cuts and my teammates found me when I was open. I've got to give the credit to them."
A layup by Paul Rolfes gave the Bombers their first lead at 20-18 with 1:26 left and the teams went into halftime tied at 21-21. Cannon Falls was fortunate the hole it dug wasn't deeper in the first half.
"They had to be able to keep the game within reach," Davisson said. "To get it back to tied at halftime, I think we felt we were up."
Defensive pressure ratcheted up even more after the break as K-W made just three field goals in the first 16 minutes after halftime, but the Bombers didn't do much better, establishing a 34-29 lead with four field goals in that stretch.
The Knights' fourth field goal of the half came on a basket by Quaale to cut the deficit to 34-31 with 2:02 remaining in regulation.
Cannon Falls missed the front end of two 1-and-1's in the final minute, allowing K-W to close the gap to 35-34 on a 3-pointer by Quaale.
After Jordan Lundell knocked down two free throws for the Bombers with 15 seconds left, the Knights had one last possession to tie the game.
Quaale received an inbounds pass across half court with 12 seconds left and looked to create off the dribble, but Rolfes poked the ball loose. The ensuing scramble for the ball forced K-W to throw up two desperation 3-pointers that missed.
"I just like the pressure situations," Rolfes said of guarding Quaale. "I know how he plays, I know his tendencies. I knew what he wanted to do, to shoot a pull-up jump shot."
The Bombers looked uncomfortable on offense most of the game but made just enough plays to win.
"In the playoffs, whatever you've got to do to win," Rolfes said. "We don't really care."
The win advances the Bombers to face second-seeded Waterville-Elysian-Morristown Thursday at New Prague High School.
"We have a lot of little things we need to clean up," Davisson said. "(W-E-M) is quick and very scrappy defensively."
The Section 2AA quarterfinal game is slated to begin at 8 p.m.