What was at times a long season for the Custer High School basketball team came to an end Feb. 27 when the Wildcats fell to the Rapid City Christian Comets 69-57 in the first round of Region 8A tournament play.
Although it was a loss, the game was much closer than the 22-point loss the Comets handed Custer earlier in the season, as the Wildcats hung tough throughout the game.
“Our kids came out a little more focused in this game and ready to play,” head coach Paul Kelley said. “The ball goes a couple of ways here and there, things could have been different. We made some mistakes we haven’t made in the past couple of weeks and they took advantage of them.”
Custer led to start the game after a Jace Kelley three-pointer and a Reed Ashmore basket inside. The teams exchanged ties and lead changes for the next couple of minutes before the Comets used their advantage in the post to take command, mostly behind Zane Schlabach, who scored 24 points in the game and for whom the Wildcats had little answer.
“Not to take anything away from him, but we didn’t play good defense on him,” Kelley said. We didn’t get the job done on the interior in our defense. But, it wasn’t just that. There is plenty of fault to go around.”
The Comets took a 22-14 lead early in the second quarter after a three-pointer by Ethan Wipf extended that lead thanks to a Schlabach steal and basket.
Jace Kelley cut into the lead with a three-pointer from about 25 feet out, which was followed by a Nolan Patzlaff basket on which he was fouled, and free throw. Custer looked poised to tie the score or take the lead following a Dustyn Fish three-pointer which made the score 26-23 with 3:02 remaining in the half, but Christian answered with a Jack Roisum three-pointer and took a 30-24 lead into the half.
The third quarter proved to be Custer’s undoing, as the Comets scored eight quick unanswered points before Kelley called a timeout.
From there Custer tried to chip away, as an Ashmore basket and Jace Kelley putback cut the Comet lead to six at 38-32. The Comets then scored eight more unanswered points to extend their lead back to 12, while Custer committed uncharacteristic turnovers and defensive lapses.
“We gambled too much—trying for steals, putting other people in bad positions. That hurt,” Kelley said. “Unforced errors killed us.”
Custer made one more run to start the fourth quarter, starting with a Patzlaff three-pointer, followed by an Ashmore basket that again saw the Comet lead cut to single digits. The Wildcats would get no closer, however, and as time wound down the Comets hit virtually every free throw they took to close out the game.
Jace Kelley led the team with 14 points, with Ashmore scoring 12 points on six-of-eight shooting. Patzlaff had 10 points of his own, as did Dustyn Fish.
The loss sees Custer’s season come to an end with a record of 5-16—a disappointing season, but one where only two seniors played and many young players got a heavy dose of varsity minutes.
Kelley said the team will miss its seniors, Ashmore and Reese Kelley, but added it’s been a long time since a Custer team will return as much varsity experience as the Wildcats will next season.
The team’s two leading scorers, Patzlaff and Jace Kelley, return, as do several other players who were thrust into prominent roles as freshmen and sophomores.
“We’re not expecting to be the best team in the state next year, but we made huge gains and strides. They have to keep making those,” Paul Kelley said. “We have to keep developing fundamentally and getting bigger and stronger. We had young guys play really well. The next couple of years could be fun for Custer basketball.”
Custer 14 10 16 17 —57
RCC 19 11 21 18 —69
Custer—Nolan Patzlaff 4-10 1-1 10, Reese Kelley 0-4 1-2 1, Dustyn Fish 4-6 0-0 10, Jace Kelley 4-13 3-6 14, Isaac Powers 1-3 1-3 3, Grant Sullivan 3-5 1-2 7, Dominick Milliken 0-2 0-0 0, Reed Ashmore 6-8 0-0 12. Totals: 22-51 7-14 57.
Rapid City Christian—David Schmagel 0-4 0-0 0, Zane Schlabach, 11-19 2-5 24, Levi Vanden Bos 1-3 5-5 7, Ethan Wipf 4-7 2-2 12, Jack Roisum 6-7 6-6 19, Noah Roisum 1-2 0-0 3, David Greni 1-4 0-2 2, Terrance Asbridge 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 25-48 15-20 69.
Totals: Three-point goals: Custer 6 (J. Kelley 3, Fish 2, Patzlaff), RCC 4 (Wipf 2, J. Roisum, N. Roisum). Rebounding: Custer 21, RCC 31 (Schlabach 10). Steals: Custer 2, RCC 3. Assists: Custer 18 (R. Kelley 6), RCC 16 (Vanden Bos 5). Turnovers: Custer 13, RCC 7. Totals fouls: Custer 15, RCC 15. Fouled out: none.