Boys' basketball roundup and playoff preview

RF defeats Mustangs in blowout; Prescott is #1 seed

Ellsworth stops 4-game skid; SV defeats EPC in last regular season game

By Joe Peine
Posted 2/28/24

The River Falls Wildcats defeated the Menomonie Mustangs on Friday night in Menomonie by a score of 61-37. It was the final game of the regular season for the Wildcats who now look towards the …

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Boys' basketball roundup and playoff preview

RF defeats Mustangs in blowout; Prescott is #1 seed

Ellsworth stops 4-game skid; SV defeats EPC in last regular season game


The River Falls Wildcats defeated the Menomonie Mustangs on Friday night in Menomonie by a score of 61-37. It was the final game of the regular season for the Wildcats who now look towards the postseason where they will enter the regional bracket as the two-seed, which earns them a first-round bye.

The game against the Mustangs was nothing less than a blowout.

The usual suspects were at it again for the Wildcats with star shooter Joey Butz leading the way with 21 points scored. Eli Johnson also had a nice night, completing the double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds to go along with a trio of blocks.

Heading into the postseason, Head Coach Zac Campbell says the keys to victory and making a deep run in the playoffs will be confidence and consistency.

“When we are able to play in flow and on attack offensively and defensively, good things happen for us. Being consistent in what we do will allow us to weather runs from our opponents and put constant pressure on them,” Campbell said. “In playoff basketball, every three possessions is essentially the length of one regular season game as we are in a one-game season. Being mentally strong and resilient is of utmost importance to not allow teams to run off several positive possessions in a row.”

This is the seventh consecutive year the Wildcats have earned a first round bye, the benefit of which is having a week of focused practice leading up to the tough back-to-back set up that comes with regional postseason play. Campbell says that having the opportunity to host Friday and Saturday is something they work all season for, and they look forward to playing in front of a home crowd and continuing their trend of strong basketball.

The last time the Wildcats reached the Division 2 Final Four at the state tournament was the 2020-2021 season. 

“Having to get through five rounds of postseason play to reach Madison is such a challenge, but the postseason tournament rewards teams playing their best basketball at that time, and we look forward to the challenge,” Campbell said.

With the bye, the Wildcats will face the victor of Tuesday’s round one matchup of those same Menomonie Mustangs that just got their behinds handed to them and the Lakeland Thunderbirds. If River Falls wins, they will play for the regional championship on Saturday. Both games entail have tipoff times of 7 p.m.

Middle Border: Prescott

The 2024 Middle Border Conference Champion Prescott Cardinals enter the regional tournament bracket as the one-seed, garnering the most favorable postseason schedule possible, at least on paper.

The effort it takes not to write “co-champion” underscores the bittersweet nature of the asterisk-esque feeling of what sharing a title means for teams. Trophy politics aside, the Cardinals played an amazing season of basketball and earned the banner they brought home, finishing the conference season at 12-2 with a 17-6 record overall (a half game ahead of their co-champion Osceola Chieftains).

Head Coach Nick Johnson says to get back to the state tournament, they need to play relaxed and confident.

“We don't need to make any drastic changes, just continue to play great defense and stay aggressive offensively,” Johnson said. “We feel we were deserving of a top seed. Our whole body of work in and out of the conference was a big reason we got the #1 seed. We had some big non-conference wins.” 

The Cardinals have experienced a short drought in reaching state tournament play; last time the Cardinals advanced to the state level of tournament play was in 2018, but after getting there three of the past four years in 2015 and 2017 as well.

With the one-seed comes a first-round bye. Following which, the Cardinals will take on the winner of the eight-seed Amery Warriors and the nine-seed Barron Golden Bears. From there, there is a distinct possibility that one of the co-champions will get a chance to erase the asterisk from their memory banks for good as the Chieftains line up to face the winner of the five-seed St. Croix Central Panthers and the 12-seed Spooner Rails.

If the basketball gods are good, fans will get the chance for vindication, validation and true victory next Saturday, given that both of these high-powered offenses don’t falter coming out of their respective round one byes. Alliteration aside, as the higher seed Prescott would host this epic sudden death rematch, so Cardinal fans should keep next Saturday at 7 p.m. wide open.

Middle Border: Ellsworth

The Ellsworth Panthers defeated the Grantsburg Pirates at home in their final regular season game by a score of 54-40. It was a great way to finish the regular season for Ellsworth, who snapped a four-game skid and head into the postseason on a high note.

Parker Woodland was the Panthers’ top scorer once again, putting up 18 points while securing 11 rebounds to complete the double-double. Gavin Puhrmann and Omar Coulson also had good games, each putting up double digit points for Ellsworth.

It was something of an uneven season for the Panthers team who experienced quite a few growing pains, finishing 6-18 overall. With this, they enter the postseason as the 10-seed, and they will travel to Baldwin-Woodville to play a Blackhawks team that fared only slightly better in the regular season, finishing at 9-15. This sets up what should be a very competitive round one tilt in Baldwin on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Should Ellsworth come out victorious, they would advance to round two where they would travel to Bloomer to face a second consecutive team named the Blackhawks.

Head Coach Derek Staley says they were seeded about where they thought they would be going into the postseason as they look to compete to win a regional championship for the first time since 2017-2018.

“I think the seeding was done correctly from what I saw in the region,” Staley said. “I think for us to make a deep run, we just have to keep doing what we are doing but take care of the basketball as well. We have been playing very well in the month of February, and I think we have a chance to make a run.”

However the postseason shakes out for the Panthers this year, their program is clearly on the upswing. They fielded a team that was on the younger side this year, and as such, they will only be losing three seniors in the offseason in Logan Brand, Kale Sammon and star shooter Woodland.

While top end talent like Woodland and Co. are hard to replace, so is the experience that the sizable group of underclassmen gained this season playing meaningful varsity minutes. While this year’s team only featured three seniors on their starting squad, next year’s roster will contain more than double that while promoting a similarly large class of sophomores up the ladder as well.

Dunn-St. Croix: Spring Valley

The Spring Valley Cardinals were victorious over the Elmwood-Plum City Wolves on Thursday night, winning by a score of 69-48. After falling short of a conference title after cruising through the whole season in first place, the Cardinals rebounded nicely.

Cade Stasiek led the team in scoring (16), rebounding (10) and assists (7), which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody who follows this team. Trevor Forster, Diego Schmitt and Jameson Bauer also had solid games for the red birds, each scoring double digits.

With this, Spring Valley will head into the postseason on a high note where they will be the three-seed, earning a first-round bye.

Head Coach Rob Bosshart feels they were seeded about right when considering their record and strength of schedule in the regular season.

“It will be nice to have a few days to let the guys rest and recover from a few nagging injuries, but we're really excited about getting started on Friday,” Bosshart said. “We will definitely have to shoot a little better than we have the last couple of weeks if we are going to extend our season, but the kids have been working hard on it. I don't anticipate making any dramatic changes in our preparation as we enter the tournament.”

Coach Bosshart says one thing they focused on throughout the season was to prepare for each game in a consistent manner, regardless of who they were playing, and that's what they plan to do in the postseason as well.

For a team that has experienced so much success in recent years, it’s been 20 since their last trip to the state tournament in 2004. This Cardinals team has worked hard, persevered and has the talent to make a push, though, and the journey back to Madison begins this Friday in round two of the regional tournament when they will host the winner of Tuesday’s round one matchup of Boyceville and McDonell.

Should they prove victorious, they will likely go on the road to face Cameron on Saturday for the chance to become regional champion and move on to sectionals. Tipoff for both games is 7 p.m.

Dunn-St. Croix: EPC

The Elmwood-Plum City Wolves were defeated at home by the Spring Valley Cardinals in their final regular season game, 69-48.

The Wolves put up nearly 50 on a very good Cardinals team, although efficiency continues to be an issue.

Lucas Glaus had another nice game for the Wolves, coming up one rebound shy of the double-double to go along with his 17 points. Logan Auth also put up double digit points for EPC and was second on the team in rebounds with six.

As the Wolves turn their attention to the postseason, Head Coach Kyle Webb says they will need to lean into what they do well if they’re going to make some noise in the playoffs.

“Playing as a team, utilizing our strengths and taking advantage of opposing teams’ weaknesses. Minimizing the turnovers would help as well,” Webb said. “Our seed reflects how the season went so far in that we had lots of opportunities that we did not capitalize on. Now, we will have to play smart and show that we are better than an 11-seed.” 

EPC boys basketball has yet to win a regional championship as a co-op. They have played in a few of those games but never came out on top. The last regional title won by Plum City boys’ basketball was in 2011, whereas the last regional championship for Elmwood was in 2013, coincidentally in Webb’s senior year of high school. 

As the 11-seed, EPC enters the postseason in the first round of regional play where they will face the Assumption Royals on the road Tuesday night. Should they keep winning, they would advance to the semi-final round of the regional tournament against the winner of Cochrane-Fountain City and New Lisbon on Friday and then compete to become regional champion on Saturday. Tipoff for every game of the postseason is at 7 p.m.

boys basketball, playoffs, River Falls Wildcats, Big Rivers, Prescott Cardinals, Ellsworth Panthers, Middle Border, Spring Valley Cardinals, EPC Wolves, Dunn-St. Croix