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Boys basketball: Packers blow past Albert Lea on senior night

Austin senior Connor Bollum has been the AHS student section’s favorite name to chant for the past two seasons, but usually those chants come at the end of a Packer blowout.

Austin's Connor Bollum pops a three from the corner during the first half against Albert Lea Tuesday night in Packer Gym. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Austin’s Connor Bollum pops a three from the corner during the first half against Albert Lea Tuesday night in Packer Gym. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

On Tuesday in Packer Gym, Bollum got to hear those chants a lot earlier as he started and played a good portion of the Packers’ 79-57 win over Albert Lea on senior night.

Bollum scored eight points in the win as he hit two 3-pointers and all six of Austin’s seniors scored.

“There’s a little pressure, but it definitely gets me going,” Bollum said of the crowd chants. “It’s just plain fun.”

Bollum has mostly been used as a practice player with the Packers (13-12 overall, 12-9 Big Nine), but he hasn’t let that bother him.

“I wouldn’t call it a grind. I love basketball and I love playing it,” Bollum said. “I help the team in other ways and I don’t need to be in the game all of the time. I help out in practice by making sure I work everybody as hard as I can so they can better.”

The Tigers (0-25 overall, 0-21 Big Nine) cut Austin’s lead to 22-18 when Jake Thompson hit a 3-pointer with 5:55 left in the half, but the Packers answered with a 26-7 run to close the half. Nik Gasner, who had 21 points, had a four-point play and another 3-pointer during the run.

“We had a stretch in the first half where Nik was on fire and we got some run outs. Levi [Vierkandt] was playing real well and he’s been playing real well for us lately,” Austin head coach Kris Fadness said.

Austin's Nik Gasner splits a pair of Albert Lea defenders for a lay-up in the second half Tuesday night in Packer Gym. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Austin’s Nik Gasner splits a pair of Albert Lea defenders for a lay-up in the second half Tuesday night in Packer Gym. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Jon Knorr, another little used senior, scored four points for the Packers, Vierkandt had 19 points, five rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots and two steals, Noah Brehmer had five points, and Austin’s top scorer on the season Gach Gach had three points, but he dished out five assists while playing the role of distributor.

“It was nice to see Jon [Knorr] and Connor come in,” Fadness said. “It’s hard when you don’t get playing time all year and you come in the game and are expected to perform and play. I’m happy with both those guys, I thought they took advantage of their minutes and they did some nice things for us.”

The Packers are headed down the stretch of the season as they will close out the regular season against Owatonna in Packer Gym Friday at 7 p.m. Austin will likely have a home playoff game the following Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Vierkandt said it’s hard to believe that the season is winding down for the senior class.

“I’m not sure I quite realize it yet, I’m sure I will once the season’s over,” Vierkandt said. “We’re still working for the end of the season and hopefully we can make a run in the sections.”

AL 25 32 — 57

Austin 48 31 — 79

Austin's Tate Hebrink drives around Albert Lea's Tyler Anderson during the first half Tuesday night in Packer Gym. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Austin’s Tate Hebrink drives around Albert Lea’s Tyler Anderson during the first half Tuesday night in Packer Gym. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Austin scoring: Nik Gasner, 21; Levi Vierkandt, 19; Connor Bollum, 8; Both Gach, 6; Oman Oman, 5; Noah Brehmer, 5; Zach Coffey, 4; Jon Knorr, 4; Gach Gach, 3; Kyle Oberbroeckling, 2; Joe Kroymann, 2; free throws: 33 percent (1-for-3); rebounds: 30 (Brehmer, 6); turnovers: 8