Two months ago, Tomah and River Falls played a game during which the biggest lead either team had was seven points.
Tomah coach Brad Plueger expects a similar contest Friday when the two teams meet again for a WIAA Division 2 boys basketball Regional final. Tipoff is 7 p.m. at Tomah High School. The winner plays either La Crosse Central or New Richmond Saturday at the site of the higher remaining seed.
The Timberwolves defeated River Falls 46-45 Dec. 29 during the second game of Tomah’s holiday invitational. Neither team ever led by more than seven points, and Kyle Kroener won the game by making a driving layup with 1.8 seconds left.
Had Kroener missed the layup, Friday’s game would likely be at River Falls as Tomah claimed the number-four seed and River Falls was seeded fifth. Both teams had byes in the preliminary round of the regional.
The two teams compiled similar profiles since the Dec. 29 meeting. Both finished the regular season with a 14-8 record and have a mixture of marquee wins and frustrating losses.
“They’re very similar to us,” Plueger said. “They defeated the top team in their conference and they have some losses against the team in the middle of the conference. It will be a very good matchup again.”
River Falls finished with an 8-4 record in the Big Rivers Conference and defeated league champion Eau Claire North 61-58 on North’s home floor Dec. 19. North won the rematch 61-41 in River Falls Jan. 19. The Wildcats also lost at home to last-place Menomonie 53-52 Feb. 1.
The Wildcats have played well since then. They carry a six-game winning streak into the regional.
River Falls is led by 6-5 senior forward Jason Knotek, who will play collegiately at North Dakota State next season. He averaged 19.4 points per game as a junior and was the BRC player of the year in 2016-17. Knotek scored just 11 points Dec. 29 before fouling out in the final minute.
Tomah ended its regular season Feb. 22 with a 63-52 loss to La Crosse Central. Plueger said turnovers and the inability to keep 6-8 center Josh Dahlke on the floor kept the Timberwolves from springing an upset against the second-ranked Red Raiders. Dahlke was in foul trouble and also sat out four minutes due to bleeding from a laceration on his arm. Central, which led just 26-25 at halftime, stretched its lead to 12 points while Dahlke was being bandaged.
The Timberwolves are assured of their first winning season since they won the Mississippi Valley Conference title in 2004-05. They were 7-5 in the MVC, which marks the first time Tomah has won more than four MVC contests since 2004-05.