March 2: Onalaska vs. River Falls

Onalaska High School's Dakota Mannel is fouled by River Fall's Mike Vitt as he shoots in the first half of Saturday's Division 2 regional final.

ONALASKA — The anticipated matchup is set, but the River Falls High School boys basketball team did its best to make sure it didn’t happen with a second-half comeback against Onalaska on Saturday.

But the Hilltoppers found a way to fight off the Wildcats and win a 54-46 WIAA Division 2 regional final in front of about 800 people at the Charles Deeth Fieldhouse.

That means seventh-ranked Onalaska (20-4) will face off with second-ranked Central (22-2) in a sectional semifinal Thursday, a game that in all likelihood will be played at Logan High School. The game tips off at 7 p.m.

“We came up big in some key moments of the game,” Onalaska junior Carson Arenz said. “We didn’t do too well on offense (in the second half), but they were locked in on defense and made shots when they needed them.”

The Wildcats (16-7) trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half but were within 50-46 when JT Dougherty scored from under the basket with 1 minute, 3 seconds to go.

It was their last basket of the game, and Arenz and Jonathan Flanagan each made two free throws around a big blocked shot by Victor Desmond in the final minute.

It didn’t look like the Hilltoppers would need those kinds of plays the way they ended the first half.

Onalaska took complete control with a 13-0 run after River Falls, which tied for the Big Rivers Conference championship, took a 16-14 lead with 7 minutes left in the first half.

It started with a Dakota Mannel 3-pointer and finished with a Desmond layup. Onalaska’s defense was turned up, and the Wildcats had trouble even getting a shot off.

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Desmond’s layup that followed a Mannel steal gave the Hilltoppers a 27-16 lead with 2:01 on the clock.

“I thought that made the difference,” Onalaska coach Craig Kowal said. “That was very big for us.”

The Wildcats didn’t make another first-half field goal after taking the 16-14 lead and only attempted one more field goal before it ended. The Hilltoppers forced three turnovers, and River Falls made 2 of 4 attempts from the free-throw line before the half ended with Onalaska in front 29-18.

The Hilltoppers also closed out the half with Arenz on the bench after picking up his third foul with 4:21 left. Desmond provided a lift off the bench as Mannel dictated the pace both offensively and with the steal that set up Desmond’s layup.

“I was a little concerned after the (third) foul,” Arenz said. “It’s hard to sit on the bench when you could be out there helping.”

Tyrell Stuttley scored a team-high 14 points for Onalaska, which also received 12 apiece from Arenz and Mannel. Mannel had eight and made six free throws in the second half.

Tickets for the Hilltoppers’ game against Central will be on sale at both schools from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday.

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Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at Todd.Sommerfeldt@lee.net or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX


Assistant Sports Editor

Todd Sommerfeldt has covered sports for the La Crosse Tribune since 2003 after doing the same previously in the Fox Cities and Rock County.