Gaining momentum

Published 12:33 am Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The games that defined Austin’s season

It was clear from Day 1 that this Packers team was loaded with talent, but it still had to go out and prove it. Here are the five key games of the season that helped mold Austin into the squad that clinched the school’s first state tournament berth in 30 years.

Ryan Larson pivots around Mankato East's Taylor Hayenga during the first half in Packer Gym. Herald file photo

Austin 82, Mankato East 73

Dec. 20

The Cougars, who eventually qualified for the state tournament, were coming into to Packer Gym boasting the No. 3 ranking in Class ‘AAA’ and Austin’s Joe Aase and Tom Aase were saddled with foul trouble.

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So Austin sophomore Zach Wessels did everything he could to keep his team in the game. He went inside and outside and when it was all said and done, he had 29 points, three assists, four steals and five rebounds.

Austin led by as many as 20 early on, but the Cougars pulled to within four before Austin hit four straight free throws to finish them off.

Owatonna 39, Austin 34

Dec. 27

It wouldn’t have been surprising if the Packers had backed down in this one. Owatonna Gym was packed and the game was as physical as high school basketball gets.

There was holding, pushing and even a little shoving. But there weren’t too many whistles.

Even so, Austin held a 26-19 lead with 9:46 left in the contest, before struggling to score down the stretch.

While it was a loss, you walked away from that game knowing the Packers had potential to do great things this season, especially when seeing how down the team looked afterwards. The words ‘moral victory’ weren’t even close to their minds.

Austin's Goliath Oboyo goes up against Rochester Mayo in the first half Feb. 3 in Packer Gym.

Austin 78, Rochester Mayo 47

Feb. 3

If you want to know how much Austin improved this season, simply look at its two matchups with Rochester Mayo. The Packers lost to the Spartans 53-50 on a buzzer-beating three Dec. 16, but Austin dominated the rematch, starting the game on a 10-0 run and never letting the Spartans get close.

Joe Aase poured in 28 points and Tom Aase added 16 — including his first two career dunks in a game within a 10-second span in the second half.

Austin fans mob the court after the Packers’ 61-52 win over Owatonna in Packer Gym.

Austin 61, Owatonna 52

March 2

If you told the Owatonna Huskies that they would shoot 46 percent (10-for-22) on three-pointers in a packed Packer Gym, I’m sure they would’ve taken it. And they probably would have expected a win.

But not this time. The Packers shot slightly better from the arc at 47 percent (8-for-17) and they never trailed throughout the night as they clinched the Big Nine title outright.

Tom Aase shined the brightest for the Packers as he posted 18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and four blocks while dominating the paint against a very physical Huskies team.

Austin's Tom Aase dunks the winning shot home off a lob pass from Zach Wessels in the final seconds of the Section 1AAA title game against New Prague Friday night in the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester.

Austin 43, New Prague 41

March 16

After a year in which their press had dominated a majority of their opponents, it wasn’t quite clicking against the Trojans. The Packers forced 15 turnovers, but they weren’t getting their usual easy lay-ups in transition.

Still, Austin showed exactly what it is made of when it finished the game on a 12-4 run and Tom Aase showed he’s not afraid to be a hero when he slammed down a game-winning alley-oop on a pin-point pass from Zach Wessels.

The final play showed what the Packers have become — a composed team that doesn’t panic under high stress.