OSSEO — Logan Mulhern draws a crowd. His teammates know that. And they know they have to be ready.
Monday night they were ready. Ready to catch. Ready to shoot. And now they’re ready to win a Western Cloverbelt title.
When the Chippewa Falls McDonell defense collapsed on Mulhern, Caden Boettcher and Alex Watenphul rose to the occasion. They each knocked down two huge 3-pointers in crunch time as Osseo-Fairchild moved within touching difference of the conference crown with an 84-72 victory.
“We knew that all the attention was going to go to Logan,” Watenphul said. “We had to be ready.”
The first-place Thunder (14-3, 10-1) opened up a two-game lead over the Macks (10-7, 8-3) and idle Altoona Railroaders (12-6, 8-3). One more win will clinch at least a share of the conference title — which would be Osseo-Fairchild’s first since 2014. Two more wins clinches it outright. The Thunder are at Thorp on Thursday, host Stanley-Boyd on Feb. 13 and close out the conference schedule at Altoona on Feb. 16.
“This is probably the biggest win all year,” Watenphul said. “We considered it the biggest game that we’ve had. We looked forward to this game.”
Monday’s win was spearheaded by Mulhern, the all-conference junior who had 25 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. What ultimately won the game for the Thunder might have been that final statistic. Mulhern’s willingness to find an open teammate came to the forefront with the game on the line.
Osseo-Fairchild trailed McDonell, the two-time defending conference champion, in the final four minutes when Mulhern found Boettcher for two consecutive 3s. The first tied the game, and the second gave the Thunder a lead they’d never relinquish.
“They’re putting their time in in practice,” Osseo-Fairchild coach Tim Popple said. “They know it’s going to come down to wide-open 3s, because Logan’s creating so much attention inside. Tonight they made a few of them.”
After a Mulhern offensive rebound and 3-point play, Watenphul provided the knockout punch. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers of his own to extend the lead to nine. Then he hustled to track down a long rebound and quickly threw the ball ahead to Ryan Myhers for a layup. That was effectively the game.
“I just let it fly,” Watenphul said. “It’s just something that I’ve got to do.”
Boettcher finished with 17 points for Osseo-Fairchild, while Cory Myhers had 12 points and seven rebounds. The Thunder hurt the Macks on the glass, outrebounding them 44-29. Myhers caused all sorts of problems in the first half, scoring 10 of his 12 points in the opening 18 minutes.
“You can afford to take a shot and miss it,” Popple said. “Because there’s a good chance we’re going to get a hand on that ball.”
Hayden Baughman scored 21 points to lead the Macks, who rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to grab a 3-point lead when Baughman drilled a deep 3 while trailing a break.
Cory Hoglund added 16 points and Jaebin Bourget finished with 11 off the bench. But there was no way back for the Macks after Boettcher and Watenphul did their damage from dowtown.
“That really took the wind out of our sails after coming back,” McDonell coach Archie Sherbinow said.