Wisconsin boys basketball: River Falls knocked out by Wauwatosa East in state semifinals

OSHKOSH, Wis – River Falls ran out of late-game magic.

After battling from behind from the onset, the Wildcats saw a brief late-game lead stolen away down the stretch in a 56-48 loss to Wauwatosa East on Saturday afternoon in the Division 1 semifinals of the WIAA boys state basketball tournament.

River Falls, which advanced to state for the first time since 2005 with a one-point victory in the sectional final on a late three-pointer, put itself in position for another late comeback.

The Wildcats, who trailed by eight midway through the second half, took their first lead at 45-44 on a layin by Zac Johnson with 4:29 left. Brian Parzych countered with a 3-pointer for Tosa East. After a Wildcats miss, Alex Singleton’s layin put the Red Raiders up 49-45.

J.T. Dougherty hit his sixth 3-pointer to pull River Falls within 49-48 with 2:33 left. On the ensuing possession, Dougherty blocked Singleton’s shot, but Singleton recovered for a putback to make it 51-48.

The Wildcats were forced to foul down the stretch, but they were still within 52-48 when Parzych turned a pickoff into a breakaway layup and a six-point lead with 17 seconds left.

“Even when we got down, we had opportunities,” River Falls coach Zac Campbell said. “We had a couple guys make some really good slips, that if we make that right read, we’re two points at the rim vs. two points the other way. You’re talking a four-point swing and that happened at least two, if not three possessions, down that last three minutes.”

Dougherty finished with 25 points for the sixth-ranked Wildcats (21-3), who had won 14 straight. Johnson, whose 3-pointer gave River Falls a 53-52 victory over De Pere in the sectional final and averaged 24 points per game, was held to 13 points and hampered by second-half foul trouble.

“Obviously, we lost a really good scorer and leader when Zac had to come out,” Dougherty said. “I knew that maybe I had to hit some more shots, but ultimately the rest of the team did a really good job of playing together, even without Zac.”

The Wildcats committed 15 turnovers, which Tosa East converted into 15 points. The Red Raiders controlled inside, scoring 38 points in the paint and turning 15 offensive rebounds into 20 second-chance points.

Parzych had 19 points and six steals and Jay Hinson Jr added 13 points for third-ranked Tosa East (22-3), which advanced to Saturday night’s title game against top-ranked Kimberly (25-2), a 63-42 winner over DeForest in the opening semifinal.

Due to the COVID-19 situation, the state tournament is being played in single-day sessions for each of the five divisions, split between La Crosse and Oshkosh.

With Dougherty shooting well from the perimeter, Parzych played the passing lanes down the stretch.

“I knew their guards were looking at the top of the key, that was his hot spot. So I knew they were looking to find him there,” Parzych said. “I just read crosscourt, the eyes, and I just jumped it.”

The Wildcats dug an early hole, missing their first four shots and committing five turnovers as Tosa East jumped to 9-0 lead.

Johnson’s 3-pointer finally got River Falls on the board with almost five minutes gone. The Wildcats continued to chip away, pulling within 18-16 on Dougherty’s jumper.

The Red Raiders answered with eight straight, pushing the lead to 26-16 on Hinson’s 3-pointer from the top left. Johnson hit a 3-pointer and scored underneath and Dougherty added a free throw to make it 26-22 at the break.

Campbell said it was difficult to simulate Tosa East’s quickness in practice.

“We haven’t seen a team this athletic and this long all year, and they got us pinned pretty good to the sidelines,” Campbell said. “We had guys open, but we weren’t able to make those reads that our guys were confidently making throughout the week. We just saw a different athleticism today.”

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