Their time to shine

Published 1:12 am Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Austin Packers were given T-shirts after their win over New Prague in the Section 1AAA title game in Rochester. -- Herald file photos

Packers state bound for first time in 3 decades

If the Packers want to get past the first round of the Class ‘AAA’ state boys basketball tournament, there’s one thing they’ll have to take care of — the ball.

Austin will open its first state tournament in 30 years with St. Paul Johnson, a squad that likes to bring pressure early and often.

That pressure has led to a lot of points for the Governors (20-8 overall) this season as they are averaging 81 points per game.

Austin's Zach Vierkandt cuts through traffic in the first half against Red Wing this season.

Email newsletter signup

“They’re the fastest team we will play. They try to force the sideline with man-to-man pressure and they try to get steals for lay-ups,” Austin head coach Kris Fadness said. “If we can protect the basketball and not give them turnovers and run outs and make them play a five-on-five game, we’ve got a chance. That’s the challenge.”

The Packers will tip off with Johnson at noon Wednesday in Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

The Govs will look to Marcus Marshall, a 6-2 guard who will play for Missouri State next season, to lead them as he put up 36 points in their section title win over Saint Thomas Academy.

“Marcus Marshall is a stud, and we’ve got to try and keep him in check,” said Austin center Joe Aase. “We’re just going to try and play good ‘D.’ We’re going to want to slow them down when they’re on offense.”

Fadness said the biggest problem with preparing for their first round opponent in practice is that it’s very tough to imitate what the Govs do. He said the experience Joe Aase, Tom Aase and Zach Wessels gained in playing AAU basketball last summer will be crucial when it comes to matching up with Johnson’s athleticism.

“We cannot simulate them in practice,” Fadness said. “We have to just rely on the fact that we’ve got some guys who have played against city kids, and you hope that some of that experience will shine through. If we play to our ability, we can give Johnson a run, if not beat them. We’ll see what happens.”

Austin Packers fans go wild early in the first half of the Packers win over Owatonna this season in Packer Gym.

Joe Aase said the Packers aren’t feeling any intimidation, although its their first time playing in a venue as big as Williams Arena.

“We think we have a good shot to win the whole thing,” Joe Aase said. “Johnson’s a tough team. They’re not a gimmie for sure and they’re going to give us a battle. But we’re not scared of any team in this tournament.”

Austin point guard Zach Wessels will face the brunt of Johnson’s full court press. But he’s not feeling any nerves and he’s looking forward to the matchup.

“It’s going to be fun to be a part of. We want to win to state,” Wessels said. “We just have to contain them and play our game. We don’t want to stoop down to their kind of play, and we want to make them play up to us.”

Joe Aase is still taking it in that he will be playing in the state tournament — something he’s dreamed of most of his life.

“It was kind of surreal on Friday from so many perspectives,” Joe Aase said. “It’s nice to be the first team in 30 years and it’s nice to be Fad’s first team to go to state here.”

While Austin is pumped to play at state, Fadness is just hoping his team doesn’t get any stage fright. The Packers struggled to get going in the Section 1AAA title game against New Prague as they hung on to win 43-41.

“I know we can compete,” Fadness said. “We have to play at a high level, and the guys have to relax a little. There were times in the section championship game where we were like a deer in the headlights, and we can’t have that.”