Six-game skid comes to a close

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 21, 2003

After enduring six straight losses, it seemed like the Austin boys' basketball team was finally on its way to win in its final home game of the year Thursday night.

A 20-point lead early in the third quarter disappeared, but the Packers, led by their seniors, held off Mankato West for a thrilling 72-69 victory.

Austin came right at the Scarlets with a balanced offensive attack. While they got points from the usual sources, Tucker Schieck and Jordan Van Proosdy both hit three-pointers early on as well. Joey Kroc was also more offensive-minded in the early going, making it hard for the Mankato West defense to focus on any one player.

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"Joey did a nice job tonight running the show and getting his own shots," said Austin head coach Kris Fadness.

Aided by a number of open looks at the basket, the Packers drilled five three-pointers in the first quarter, going on a 14-2 run that put them up 24-11 over a lethargic Mankato West squad.

Austin's energy level continued to overwhelm the Scarlets in the second quarter. Their hustle created second chance points off of rebounds and mismatches on the fast break. Alex Kaiser's third trey of the first half gave Austin a seemingly comfortable 45-27 margin at the half.

"We were moving the ball well," Fadness said, "and we were able to get some fast-break points because of it."

While the Austin lead did get back up to 20 points, Mankato West began to play with more fire as the third quarter began. Their diminutive freshman Tommy Saffert sunk a couple of key three-pointers, but Austin was able to answer them each time.

Joey Kroc hit a floater from the lane, followed by a timeout while falling out of bounds to save an errant pass on the next possession, and Kaiser dropped in another long-range jumper to put the Packer lead at 60-47 heading into the final frame.

Mankato West kept feeding Saffert, and he responded well to the pressure by drilling his fourth three-pointer of the evening to bring the Austin lead down to four points.

"He's got a great handle (on the ball) and can shoot," Fadness said of Saffert, "and he showed that tonight."

AHS senior Kyle Rizzi, playing in his final game at Ove Bergen Gym, followed with a steal and layup that stemmed the Scarlet momentum for the time being. He also answered a Scott Nessler three-point play with another clutch hoop that bumped the Austin lead back up to 65-59.

Classmate Jon Bain then began to assert himself in the low post, blocking a shot and hitting 3-of-4 free-throws. But just as soon as Bain got started, he picked up his fifth foul with 2:20 to play.

Despite the play of those two seniors, Austin had trouble holding off the surging Scarlets. Andy Wills, who had only two points in the first half, began to get into a rhythm inside, no doubt helped by the foul trouble of the Packer front line. He drew contact on a short jumper and hit the subsequent free-throw to put his team within two with only 1:30 to play.

Rizzi continued his fine fourth-quarter play with the rebound of a Kaiser missed free-throw.

He then drew a foul and hit 1-of-2 from the line to make it a two-possession game.

Mankato West went right back in to Wills, who fouled out Kaiser, but couldn't complete the three-point play.

After a controversial foul underneath, Schieck stepped up to the line and drilled both shots to up the lead to four, but Wills fouled him out too at the other end, cutting the lead back down to 71-69.

Mankato West then hacked Marc Forman, who was pressed into service because of the loss of Bain and Schieck. He hit the first free-throw and got the rebound of the second shot to earn another trip to the line. He was unable to get either of them to drop, which kept it a one possession game at 72-69.

The Scarlets set up an inbound play to go to Saffert with 17 seconds left. A heads-up switch by 6-5 Van Proosdy onto the 5-7 guard prevented Saffert from getting a clear look at the basket, forcing him to fling up a desperation shot that failed to draw iron and preserved the Packer victory.

"A lot of guys really stepped up and made plays (in the fourth)," said Rizzi, "and it was a great way to finish the season here."

"The last two weeks have been a struggle for all of us," said Fadness, "but these guys have been working hard throughout, so it's a big morale boost to win a game like this one."

Mankato West was led 26 points from the sweet-shooting Saffert and 15 from Wills, most of which came with the game on line.

Bain had 15 points to lead the victorious Packers, who improve to 4-12 in conference play and 7-14 overall. Austin also had four others in double figures as Kaiser had 14 points, thanks to four three-pointers, Rizzi had 11, and Schieck and John Duren both added 10.

Austin travels to Winona Saturday in a makeup game from last week before concluding the regular season the following Friday at league-leading John Marshall.


MANKATO WEST (69) -- Scott Nessler 12, Tommy Saffert 26, Hans Storvick 6, Jordan Henkelman 3, Andy Wills 15, Jordan Stolp 3, Jeff Sjulstad 3, Josh Roy 1

AUSTIN (72) -- Joey Kroc 4, Tucker Schieck 10, Jon Bain 15, John Duren 10, Alex Kaiser 14, Kyle Rizzi 11, Jordan Van Proosdy 5, Marc Forman 3, Jon Barnett 0

Mankato West11162022--69


Free-throws--Austin 17-28, West 19-31

Three-pointers--Austin 7 (Kaiser 4, Duren, Schieck, Van Proosdy); West 6 (Saffert 4, Stolp, Sjulstad).

Fouled out--Bain, Kaiser, Schieck.