Boys basketball: Seniors step up as Packers top Spartans

Published 10:05 pm Monday, January 26, 2015

Austin senior Gach Gach spent part of his his summer playing AAU basketball with Rochester Mayo senior Dan Jech and the two became close friends.

Austin's Levi Vierkandt flips a shot over Rochester Mayo's Grant Coleman, left, and Dan Jech in Packer Gym Monday. -- Rocky Hulne/

Austin’s Levi Vierkandt flips a shot over Rochester Mayo’s Grant Coleman, left, and Dan Jech in Packer Gym Monday. — Rocky Hulne/

But Gach earned bragging rights over Jech as he led the Packers to a season sweep of the Spartans after Austin won 64-58 in Packer Gym Monday night.

Jech, a University of South Dakota commit, scored his 1,000th point on a two-handed alley-oop dunk to bring Mayo within 38-29 in the second half and the Spartans used that play to lift them to a rally that pulled them to within 49-48 with 5:41 left in the game.

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After a quick timeout, Gach had a big answer as he drilled two straight 3-pointers to put Austin up 55-48 with 4:50 left in the game and Mayo never got closer than four the rest of the way.

“That was huge. Those two back-to-back threes were the difference in the game,” Austin head coach Kris Fadness said. “I was really happy with our seniors tonight. I thought all of them played well. Levi [Vierkandt] was huge down the stretch making plays for us, I thought Nik [Gasner] and Noah [Brehmer] were solid, and I thought Gach was really good tonight. We’ve got less than a month left and you want guys to be excited about playing right now.”

Gach finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and two blocks and he hit six 3-pointers in the game. He was determined not to let the Spartans (11-8 overall, 9-6 Big Nine) steal one.

Kyle Oberbroeckling shoots over Mayo's Dan Jech in Packer Gym Monday. -- Rocky Hulne/

Kyle Oberbroeckling shoots over Mayo’s Dan Jech in Packer Gym Monday. — Rocky Hulne/

“We just wanted to come out stronger after [Jech] scored his 1,000th point,” Gach said. “They had all the momentum and we just wanted to force more turnovers and that’s what happened.”

Vierkandt was huge down the stretch for the Packers (10-9 overall, 9-5 Big Nine) as he hit three straight mid-range shots to put Austin back up 61-51 after Mayo had pulled within 55-51. Vierkandt had 13 points and four steals and he turned one of those steals into a breakaway dunk in the first half.

He said the key was to keep the Mayo guards from feeding Jech inside. Austin forced 25 turnovers in the win.

“We had to pressure them up top so they couldn’t get any lobs to Jech,” Vierkandt said. “[Playing against Jech] makes us work harder and pushes us. It makes us want to win more.”

Austin has now won four of its last five games and only one of those wins was by more than five points. The Packers have had plenty of practice playing close games this season and Fadness is expecting a lot more nail biters with seven games left on the schedule.

“We’re not last year and we’re not the year before,” Fadness said. “We just don’t have that explosion to pull away from anybody. Every night is going to be a barnburner. That’s what we expect.”

Mayo 24 34 — 58

Austin 35 30 — 64

Austin scoring: Gach Gach, 23; Levi Vierkandt, 13; Zach Coffey, 9; Nik Gasner, 7; Dylan Gasner, 3; Tate Hebrink, 3; Both Gach, 2; Noah Brehmer, 2; Kyle Oberbroeckling, 2; field goals: 41 percent (24-for-59); 3-pointers: 31 percent (9-for-29); free throws: 64 percent (7-for-11); rebounds: 24 (Gach Gach, 7); turnovers: 10