Big Rivers title within reach for Raider boys after beating Abes
You knew it was the Raiders' night when Nick Jepperson's shot from beyond the three-point arc hit the glass and banked through the hoop in the Hudson High gym Friday night.
Only one second was left before halftime when Nate Zuehl's inbound pass from under the basket found Jepperson, and the senior guard launched the winner.
The bucket gave the Hudson boys a 39-26 advantage over Eau Claire Memorial. They went on to win the basketball game 79-65, taking over sole possession of first place in the Big Rivers Conference standings with a 8-2 record.
The loss dropped the Old Abes into a second-place tie with Rice Lake at 7-3.
"It was an outstanding effort. That's the bottom line," Hudson coach Tim Scharfenberg said of his team's performance. "We got great contributions from a lot of different guys."
Scharfenberg doesn't like to single out individual players for praise, but he couldn't overlook the performance turned in by junior guard Matt Miller.
Miller scored a game-high 35 points, directed the offense and held Memorial's excellent guard Noah Klingensmith to just nine points.
"He had an outstanding individual performance, no doubt about it. He did everything for us," Scharfenberg said. "He scored well. He handled the ball against their pressure, distributed it well, got other guys involved."
Scharfenberg added that he was most impressed by Miller's defense recently. He named off the top guards in the conference that Miller has held in check -- Rice Lake's Chris Miller, Menomonie's Cole Kraft, and now Klingensmith.
A large and enthusiastic crowd turned out for the showdown between the conference's leading teams, adding a spirited atmosphere to the game.
"We as a team were very pleased with the crowd support. Our student section, especially, was just awesome. It brought some energy to the place," Scharfenberg said. "The community support, as well, was outstanding. We really appreciate that."
Besides playing for the Big Rivers title, the Raiders were motivated by the news that senior center Waylon Meyer will have to sit out the rest of the season.
Earlier last week, a panel of school officials upheld a decision by the district administration to suspend Meyer from the team for an alleged violation of the school's activities code. Meyer was charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault in December 2002 for allegedly inappropriately touching a girl in 2001. The girl was 14, and Meyer, 15, at the time.
The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram broke the story when Meyer was first accused of the offense last winter, and then resurrected it a month ago when a Polk County judge postponed a plea hearing until after the basketball season.
"Our guys continue to draw inspiration from Waylon's situation," Scharfenberg told the Eau Claire newspaper following Friday night's game. "There's a lot of love, a lot of caring towards Waylon. They're digging down deep right now, playing with a lot of heart and desire, and a lot of it is for Waylon."
Scharfenberg told the Star-Observer he couldn't say anything more about the case.
The Raiders led 25-13 early in the second period before the Old Abes went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 25-22 with just over three minutes to go in the half.
Hudson pushed the lead to 33-26 with 40 seconds left in the half, and scored six more points just before the buzzer.
In the final seconds of the half, Miller dished the ball to Jack Page, who scored, was fouled, and made the free throw.
Then the Abes' inbound pass hit something hanging from the rafters, setting up Jepperson's last-second trey.
Miller hit another three-pointer just before buzzer ending the third quarter to put Hudson up 56-41.
A Memorial three-pointer with 1:25 remaining in the game closed the gap to 71-63, but Hudson made its final eight free throws to secure the win.
Miller hit five three-pointers and 10 of 11 free throws in scoring his game-high 35 points.
Page, the Raiders' second-leading scorer with 14 points, was five of five from the floor and four of five from the free-throw line.
"As a team, I thought our intensity level was a cut above," Scharfenberg said. "We knew going in that we were going to have to outwork and out-hustle them. I thought we were able to do that for pretty much the full duration of the game."
The Hudson boys had another battle on their hands Tuesday night when they traveled to River Falls. The Wildcats handed the Raiders one of their two losses in the conference on Jan. 27. (The Raiders defeated River Falls in the Tuesday game, 59-55, after this edition of the Star-Observer went to press.)
"That's going to be a tough one... We know we're going to get their best game," Scharfenberg said prior to the contest.
The Raiders travel to St. Paul Central (Minn.) for a nonconference game at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21.