ALTOONA — When Osseo-Fairchild’s Alex Watenphul woke up Thursday morning he wasn’t sure he would be able to play in the team’s sectional semifinal game that night.
The Thunder’s senior guard has been battling with the flu for the past few days, but he decided he couldn’t let that stop him. It was a decision that paid off as he played a key role in Osseo-Fairchild’s 76-62 victory over Fall Creek.
Just five minutes into the game, one of the Crickets’ assistant coaches yelled for his team to sag off Watenphul, insisting he couldn’t shoot.
“It kind of boosted my confidence a little bit,” Watenphul said. “I turned around and said to him that I’ll shoot.”
Moments later, Logan Mulhern brought the ball up the court and found his senior sidekick at the right elbow for an open 3. As Watenphul ran back on defense he glanced over at the assistant and flashed a three with his fingers.
The shot quieted the Crickets’ bench and forced Fall Creek to pick between defending Cory Myhers and Mulhern in the paint or trying to protect the 3-point arc.
“You have to pick your poison,” Thunder coach Tim Popple said. “The advantage we have is that we don’t have a player that you can just leave. If you leave Alex, he’ll make them, and he made them tonight.”
With Myhers dominating in the paint early, the Crickets tried to double-team the Thunder’s big man, but it meant leaving open shooters around the perimeter. Watenphul and Caden Boettcher took advantage.
“They got the ball in there too fast and they spread it out,” Fall Creek coach Rick Storlie said. “They had other kids spread it out and hit some shots tonight.”
Myhers’ six-foot frame and strong stature proved too much for the Cricket defense. Unable to commit completely to the double-team allowed Myhers to put up numbers. He recorded 20 points despite struggling with early foul trouble.
Once again, Mulhern showed why he’s the two-time reigning Cloverbelt West player of the year. He recorded 26 points, including 14 from the foul line.
“He’s the best player anyone could ask for in sectionals,” Watenphul said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better than to have Logan on our team.”
Marcus Cline came off the bench for Fall Creek to record 17 points. He and Joey Kinderman were the only Crickets to reach double-digit points. Kinderman finished with 14, but ultimately the game marked Fall Creek’s sixth straight defeat to the Thunder and the end of the road for the team’s 11 graduating seniors.
“We’re really proud of them.” Storlie said. “To get us back to regionals and win the regional and get back here to sectionals has been very special for us. Where we started out the season and ending here, we told them just to cherish every moment when they’re out there.”
It wasn’t the way Storlie had hoped the season would end, but he says his team will hold their heads high as they head to the offseason.
The Thunder advanced to the sectional finals to take on the Clear Lake Warriors on Saturday night at Hudson. The Warriors dealt the Thunder their only loss of the year, in a 71-68 nail biter.
“I really take credit for that loss,” Popple said. “I did some bad things coaching wise in that game, but our kids are real anxious to get back out there against them and make it to Madison.”
Osseo-Fairchild 76, Fall Creek 62
Fall Creek: Marcus Cline 17, Joey Kinderman 14, Taylor Anders 8, Brady Nicks 7, Jaren Burghardt 4, Luke Olson 3, Travis Laube 3, Sean Bochman 2, Wes Klingbeil 2, David Anderson 2
Osseo-Fairchild: Logan Mulhern 26, Cory Myhers 20, Alex Watenphul 13, Caden Boettcher 10, Ryan Myhers 5, Keelan Chumas 2
3-pointers: Fall Creek 7 (Cline 3, Kinderman, Laube, Nicks, Anders), Osseo-Fairchild 5 (Watenphul 2, R. Myhers, Boettcher)
Halftime Score: Osseo-Fairchild 37-25