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Colby suffers postseason upset

Colby suffers postseason upset Colby suffers postseason upset

It wasn’t supposed to end this way, not in tears, not at home, and not with a loss. The season was supposed to go on, for at least another game, perhaps more.

But in all sports, there is a team that is a victor, and a team that must taste bitter defeat. On Friday, it was the Colby Hornets that saw their season come to a close, falling to the Pacelli Cardinals in the WIAA D-4 regional semifinal.

“We just didn’t quite execute at the end,” Colby head coach Randy Rau said afterwards. “We had the opportunities, but we just couldn’t come through.”

The two teams had faced each other in the postseason the year before, with the Hornets defeating the Cardinals 57-48 in the regional championship enroute to the state tournament.

This year each team came into the game not only hoping to extend their season, but with something to prove.

Both Colby and Pacelli had been preseason favorites to win their conference, and while both enjoyed strong regular seasons, both teams came up short.

Both teams featured play-makers, with Colby guided by Hailey Voelker, a commit to D-2 Lake Superior State, along with Eastern Cloverbelt all-conference recipients Emma Peavey and Lexi Krebsbach.

The Cardinals, hailing from Stevens Point, were led by Sarah Mueller, a 6’1” center who will play for UW-Platteville next year. Mueller came in averaging 22 points a game, and was aided by Emma Van Order’s 14 points a game.

Colby earned a fourth seed and hosted, but with Pacelli taking a fifth seed into the match-up, Friday’s game promised to be a close one.

And it was.

The game went right down to the wire. Colby had one last chance to keep their season going, down just two points at 54-52 with only seconds remaining. That they were even trailing was a surprise.

The Hornets had dominated the first half, opening with an 11-5 lead, but disaster seemed to strike when Voelker picked up two quick fouls.

“I told myself to stay calm, Hailey’s going to come back in, she’s going to have my back,” senior Kersten Wiese said after Colby’s leading scorer left the game. “I told myself I have to play as tough as Hailey can play. That’s just what I did.”

No Hailey? No problem.

The Hornets quickly went on the attack, using their speed and outside shooting to extend their lead to 17-10 as Krebsbach buried shot after shot, including three triples in the first stanza.

“We just played smart, moved the ball around, and got good looks. We didn’t try to force anything,” Krebsbach said.

Mueller was held to just eight points in the first period, and Pacelli was forced to settle on long range twos and threes.

Colby’s lead continued to grow, with Olivia Vollrath and Lexi Underwood scoring on several put-backs. By the time Voelker re-entered the game, Colby was up 27-18 with three minutes to go.

The Hornets maintained their double digit lead heading into the locker room, enjoying a 31-20 advantage at the break.

That lead grew even greater in the early goings of the second half as Peavey broke away for a fast break bucket that made it 34-20. Twice Colby would take a 14 point lead, but Pacelli refused to wilt.

Soon the Cardinals began to establish their inside-out game. Mueller bulled her way inside for points in the paint. When Colby double teamed Mueller, she kicked it out to Van Order, who scored 15 of her career high 25 points in the final frame.

“They made some big shots, and we got a little stagnant with the basketball,” Rau said. “There was a little pressure and a little nerves there, but we just didn’t execute in the second half.”

Pacelli snapped of a 15-6 run to pull within 40-35 with 11 minutes to play, and the Hornets aided Paelli’s cause with several turnovers. Pacelli took the lead for good at 47-46 with 4:52 to play.

Voelker broke free on Colby’s next possession, and put up a lay-up that rattled around the rim. Had it dropped, the Hornets would have regained the lead, and perhaps the game, but the ball refused to bounce Colby’s way and the Cardinals’ offense continued to hum.

Sensing the upset, the Cardinals burned time off the clock, forcing Colby to foul. From there, Pacelli was clutch from the charity stripe as Mueller sunk all seven of her free throw attempts to finish with 22 points and 11 rebounds.

The Hornets clawed their way back to make it a 54-52 game. With under a minute to play, Colby knew there was still hope to gut this one out.

“I was telling myself we still got 20 seconds on the clock. We still got plenty of time. We got this,” Wiese said.

The Hornets fouled Pacelli’s Sami Miller, and Miller missed both free throws, giving Colby one more chance to tie or take the lead, but the Hornets could not produce on their last possession, and were forced to foul Miller again.

This time Miller was spot on, swishing both attempts to give Pacelli a 56-52 lead.

“We had to be aggressive, we had to get to the rim and we had to crash boards and get some steals,” Rau said. “We didn’t get any steals so we had to foul them, and give credit to #1, she made the two free throws at the end that she had to make.”

The final seconds ticked away, taking with it Colby’s season. The Hornets will end the 2019-20 season with a 13-10 mark.

Voelker scored 16 points to lead Colby, followed by 13 apiece for Peavey and Krebsbach. Vollrath added six points and Underwood had four.

The season ends for this year’s freshmen, sophomores and juniors, but more time in a Colby Hornets uniform awaits them. For Rau, watching his seniors depart was bittersweet.

“Every year when a group of seniors go out, there’s a happy feeling and a sad feeling,” Rau said. “The happy feeling is you had the opportunity to coach those girls for all those years, watch them grow, not only as basketball players but as young ladies. The sad part is, the season is done - they gotta move on, I gotta move on.”

For the seniors - Hailey, Lexi and Kersten - Friday represented their final time in Colby green and gold. With great reluctance they walked away, but each spared one last look at the court.

Their eyes rested on the banners, taking in the numbers that proudly marched up and down its unfurled length - conference titles, a sectional championship, an appearance at the state tournament.

“It was special to be part of those teams,” said Kresbach. “It was a great experience. We might not have had that this year, but we had a good journey.”

The tears continued to slip down cheeks, but no matter what happens, this year’s seniors’ legacy is set in stone. Future games will be won and lost, new players and stars will shine, and the numbers on the banners are there for all of Colby to see.