If you had told Custer High School head basketball coach Paul Kelley that his team would make 13 three-pointers in its Region 8A semifinal matchup with the St. Thomas More Cavaliers, he probably would have started planning a trip to the Class A Sweet 16.
His team did make 13 three-pointers last Thursday evening in Rapid City, but made only three other baskets and were dominated in the paint on both ends of the court in a 72-50 loss.
“We didn’t go in with any inclination that’s what we were going to rely heavily upon,” Kelley said. “We tell our kids we want them to take good shots. Even though we put up 33 threes, the majority of them were good shots.”
The Wildcats even connected on 39 percent of those three-point attempts, but could get nothing going inside the arc. The tight defense and length of the Cavaliers gave the Wildcats fits, as did the physical play, some of which Kelley questioned throughout the game.
“We tried to get inside; it’s just so dang hard,” he said. “You can give some credit to St. Thomas More’s defense. But a lot of the time when we tried to get inside we got mugged.”
The Wildcats stayed in the game throughout the first half, despite falling behind 9-0 quickly. Ironically, Custer’s first basket came in the paint via freshman Brody Martinez, but that basket was quickly answered by More’s Tayton Maher.
That’s when Custer began to rain threes, including a pair back-to-back by Mack Walker, who led the Wildcats in scoring in the game with 14 points. Walker followed the triples up with a pair of free throws, cutting the More lead to 14-10.
The Wildcats picked up where they left off in the second quarter when Blake Martinz hit a pair of three-pointers to keep Custer within striking distance. As the Wildcats bombed three-pointers, the Cavaliers continued to go inside to 6-8 post player Isaac Kortemeyer, for whom the Wildcats had no answer for most of the game. Kortemeyer scored 21 points on a variety of moves in the paint while also grabbing 10 rebounds.
“We weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be. It was a physical game,” Kelley said. “You can’t fault (post players) Reed, Brody or Devin (Hendrickson). They’re giving up five inches (to Kortemeyer).”
The Wildcats initially did well handling Kortemeyer by doubling him when he got the ball, but More quickly caught on to that tactic and substituted for the player Custer left alone to employ the double team.
“They subbed that kid out and put more of a scorer in, which made it more difficult,” Kelley said.
Despite Kortemeyer’s dominance, Custer cut the lead to two points after Nolan Patzlaff hit a three-pointer, followed by a Noah Zacher three that made the score 24-22 with three minutes left in the game.
St. Thomas More answered the challenge, rattling off 13 unanswered points to end the half and take a 37-22 lead.
“I’m kind of kicking myself for the last two minutes of the first half,” Kelley said. “We were within two. We gave them that big run to let them go up by 15. It just happened so fast.”
Custer continued to battle back in the third quarter, as another Martinz three-pointer was followed by an Ashmore three and a pair of Martinez three-pointers. Every Custer triple was seemingly answered in some form or fashion by the Cavaliers, however, and a drive and layup by Ryder Kirsch at the end of the third quarter put More up 56-41. The Cavaliers grew the lead to 20 early in the fourth quarter and maintained that lead for the rest of the game.
“A common phrase around our program is ‘It doesn’t take talent to work hard,’” Kelley said. “Our kids did that. We battled. We worked as hard as we possibly could. Did we make mistakes? Absolutely. But I’m pleased with the effort.”
Martinz was the only other Wildcat to crack double figures in the game, scoring 12 points.
The loss brings the Wildcats’ season to an end with a record of 10-12. Kelley said he is proud of the way his team battled back from a poor start to the season, as the team had only three wins by the middle of January.
“A poor start put our backs against the wall. Our kids hung in there. It would have been easy to throw in the towel and give up,” he said. “That’s a credit to our kids. They kept plugging away. Our practices are a blast. Yes, Mr. Kelley gets his temper going sometimes, but they come in and work.
“All in all, we’re happy (with the season). But we’re not satisfied.”
The Wildcats lose six seniors to graduation, including three — Martinz, Walker and Zacher — who were starters. Next year’s team will have a handful of players, such as Patzlaff, Ashmore, Martinez and Trent Hiltunen, who saw heavy varsity minutes, but the rest of the team will be young and inexperienced.
“We’ll have four seniors and four juniors combined,” Kelley said. “All of them are going to have to put in the time this offseason. We have some big shoes to fill. We have to speed up the process and get these kids as ready as they can be before next year.”
Custer 10 12 19 9 —50
STM 17 20 19 16 —72
Custer—Blake Martinz 4-13 0-0 12, Nolan Patzlaff 2-8 0-0 5, Trent Hiltunen 2-5 1-2 7, Noah Zacher 1-2 0-0 3, Mack Walker 4-7 2-2 14, EJ Gonzalez 0- 0-0 0, Brody Martinez 2-5 2-2 6, Reed Ashmore 1-5 0-0 3. Totals: 16-46 5-6 50.
St. Thomas More—Connor Hollenbeck 0-0 2-2 2, Austin Hammon 1-5 0-0 2, Tayton Maher 3-8 2-2 10, Ryder Kirsch 3-10 6-7 12, Preston Arity 4-9 1-2 11, Cameron Fees 1-2 0-0 2, Jake Satter 2-7 0-0 5, Joe Poeppel 0-1 0-0 0, Kale Landguth 3-3 0-0 7, Isaac Kortemeyer 9-14 3-4 21. Totals: 26-60 14-19 72.
Three-point goals: Custer 13 (Martinz 4, Walker 4, Hiltunen 2, Patzlaff, Zacher, Ashmore), STM 6 (Maher 2, Arity 2, Satter, Landguth). Rebounding: Custer 15, STM 29 (Kortemeyer 10). Assists: Custer 13 (Martinz 5), STM 10. Steals: Custer 1, STM 4. Turnovers: Custer 8, STM 2. Total fouls: Custer 14, STM 9. Fouled out: none.