Cougars top hapless Packers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 6, 2003

As if playing its first full game without injured center Jon Bain wasn't going to be tough enough for the Austin boys' basketball team, it also had to do it against the eighth-ranked team in the state in Mankato East. The Packers were able to hang right with them for a half, but in the end, they were overwhelmed by the size and depth of their opponent, falling by the count of 56-38 Tuesday night at Ove Berven Gym.

The Packers came out of the gate strong, taking a 15-6 lead on the strength of sophomore Alex Kaiser's 9 first-quarter points.

"We probably played our best 10 minutes of offense all year in the first half," said AHS coach Kris Fadness.

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Mankato East was able to whittle away at the lead behind 12 first-half points from Nate Harstad, heading into the locker room with a 24-23 advantage.

The tone for the rest of the game was set by a 12-3 Mankato East run to start the second half.

"We took some bad shots, missed some free-throws, and all of a sudden we're playing catch-up," said Fadness.

Harstad finally got some help from his teammates, especially on the inside, as they began to assert themselves over the smaller Packers. The referees let both teams play in the second half, which favored the more physical Cougar squad.

"They're good defensively, probably one of the best in the league," said Fadness, "mostly because they're so athletic and physical."

Despite all that, Austin was still able to keep the deficit in single digits, entering the final frame down only 38-30.

The Packers were unable to reverse the trend of the previous two quarters in the fourth as Mankato East cruised to an easy 18-point victory, a final margin that didn't adequately reflect the shorthanded Packers' inspired play early on.

Leading scorer John Duren came alive in the second half, but the team's failure to, in Fadness' words, "move the ball around, take good shots, basically do all the good things we did in the first quarter," left the Austin offense somewhat one-dimensional. The loss drops them to 6-11 overall and 3-9 in the conference, while Mankato East improved to 13-4 and 9-3.

Austin basically ran a two-man game, as Kaiser finished with 13 points and Duren chipped in 10.

"Man, where'd we be without him (Kaiser)? He basically kept us in it until Duren was able to get it going," Fadness said. "He's still only a sophomore, so he's going to struggle at times, but it's a learning experience for the future, especially since we're finally through the toughest part of our schedule."

Tucker Schieck had his troubles at the line but still managed five points and two steals, while Kyle Rizzi added four points and a block, and Joey Kroc had three points and a steal.

Nate Harstad had 18 points to lead Mankato East, but, indicative of the way the whole contest went, he was helped out by 12 from Jon Kaus and 10 from Mitch Gosson, mostly in the second half. Gosson teamed with Craig Dahl to shut down Austin's inside game, as the pair had five blocks between them.

The Packers travel to Owatonna (8-10, 5-7) Friday night.


MANKATO EAST (56) -- Jon Kaus 12, David Rivers 0, Nate Harstad 18, Ryan Sorenson 0, Craig Dahl 8, Luke Olafson 4, Peter Harstad 4, Mitch Gosson 10, Tim Oachs 0.

AUSTIN (38) -- Mike Tray 0, Kyle Rizzi 4, Joey Kroc 3, Tucker Schieck 5, John Duren 10, Jon Barnett 2, Marc Forman 1, Alex Kaiser 13, Jordan Van Proosdy 0, David Gaines 0.

Mankato East9151418--56


Three-pointers--Austin 1 (Kaiser), Mankato East 0.

Free-throws--Austin 5-10, Mankato East 9-11.