Third time no charm as Bison end Wildcats’ season

Jason Ferguson

It is often said it’s difficult to beat the same team three times in the same season, particularly if the teams are closely matched.
That saying didn’t hold water on a pair of occasions last week.
The second time the saying didn’t hold true was particularly painful for the Custer High School boys basketball team, as for the third time this season the Wildcats played the Hot Springs Bison, and for the third time this season it was the Wildcats who came up on the short end of the scoreboard, falling 60-49 in the second round of region play. The loss ended the ’Cats’ season.
“It was kind of heartbreaking,” Kelley said. “We were right there. We just couldn’t seize the moment.”
The game was closer than the final score would indicate for three quarters. In the first quarter the teams traded baskets before Custer took a 10-8 lead on a Drew Lehman layup. The Bison scored the next six points to take the lead, but Custer tied the game at 14 on a three-pointer by Kyle Virtue.
Trailing by two in the second quarter, Custer went on its best run of the game, taking a 20-14 lead after a Cade Lehman basket on which he was fouled after a full-court pass from Virtue. Custer also led 23-18 and 25-20 in the third, the latter of which ocurred following a Rhett Lowe putback.
“We were executing. One of our objectives was to get the ball inside,” head coach Paul Kelley said.
Hot Springs wasted little time in erasing the lead, and tied the game at the 2:30 mark with a Josh Kleinsasser three-pointer, which was followed by a Braden Peterson triple that put Hot Springs up 28-25. The Wildcats trailed 32-28 at the half after a Lowe three-pointer.
The Wildcats didn’t have much luck from the three-point line, as the Bison made a concerted effort to try to take away the distance shooting of the ’Cats.
“They extended their pressure quite a bit,” Kelley said. “They are a team that has been there before.”
The Wildcats fell behind by seven early in the third, but battled back with the help of a Virtue drive and basket on which he was fouled and made the free throw, followed by a Roland Sedlacek basket inside. Virtue followed that with a spin move for a basket, which got the Wildcats back within two at 39-37.
That was as close as Custer would get, however, as the wheels came off in the fourth quarter in the form of missed shots, turnovers and surrendered offensive rebounds.
“I actually think it started more in the second quarter,” Kelley said, pointing to the lead the Wildcats gave up in that quarter. “We had some breakdowns defensively. They stepped up their defense.”
The Bison went up seven on a Kleinsasser three-pointer on one of a handful of possessions the Bison got two or three shots on due to offensive rebounds.
“There were just those possessions we never secured a rebound and they got those shots and it was either a three or a foul,” Kelley said. “That just destroyed us.”
Another Kleinsasser three-pointer moments later put the Bison up 10, and the Wildcats couldn’t get much closer.
Kelley lamented the team’s free-throw shooting, while crediting Hot Springs for making Custer play its type of game.
“They were patient and made us work on the offensive end,” he said. “Give Hot Springs credit. Those (starting) five kids probably played 30 minutes each. They showed physical and mental toughness to be successful.
“We know we are a good team. There are just those possessions that separate a good team from a great team.”
Virtue led the Wildcats with 18 points and eight rebounds. Cade Lehman added 15 points.
On Feb. 27 the Wildcats earned their trip to Hot Springs by defeating the Hill City Rangers in the Armory for the third time this season, this time dropping the Rangers 67-53 in the first round of Region 8A play.
“We got off to a slow start. One of the things we keep telling the kids is if you let them hang around it’s going to be tough,” Kelley said. “I felt once we got up by 10 we were in good shape. It took us a while to do that.”
Both teams started the game strong defensively, with neither team scoring much in the first couple of minutes of the game.
The Wildcats took an early lead at 8-2 following a Cade Lehman three-pointer, but the Rangers were back within a basket after a Zane Messick three-pointer and an Alex Stoeckmann layup off a Devin Buehler assist.
The Rangers eventually took the lead following an Everett Sullivan three-pointer, but the end of the first period saw the teams tied at 16 each.
The Rangers took their biggest lead of the game in the second quarter, which began with a Buehler steal (he had eight in the game) for a basket followed by a Buehler three-pointer. After another Ranger fast break basket, the visitors led the Wildcats 25-19.
Lowe started the Wildcat comeback with a three-pointer, and Cody Dirkes aided the comeback off a basket on which he was fouled (and made the free throw) on a play the Wildcats ran repeatedly when the Rangers’ 6-8 rim protector Ian Jorgensen exited the game.
“We’ve been telling our kids to get the ball inside more and more. We just looked to get the ball more inside,” Kelley said.
Custer took the lead back at 29-27 on a pair of Dirkes free throws, and added to the lead with a Carter Boyster free throw and a Cade Lehman three-pointer off a Lowe offensive rebound.
The Wildcats added to their 35-30 halftime lead immediately on a Virtue basket, which was followed by a Buehler elbow jumper that made the score 39-36 in favor of Custer.
That was as close as the Rangers would get, and the last points the Rangers would score in the entire quarter.
From there Custer closed out the third quarter on a 14-0 run, starting with a Virtue strip and steal for two and culminated by a Roland Sedlacek putback that put the Wildcats up 52-36. The Wildcats outscored the Rangers 18-6 in the third, a quarter that for much of the season was a bugaboo for the team.
“We talked at halftime if you play fearful of losing, that’s what’s going to happen at this stage,” Kelley said. “You have to go out and fight. The kids weren’t ready to have it end at home.”
The ’Cats ran their lead up to as much as 19 in the fourth quarter, and while Hill City cut the lead to 12 late the Rangers never really threatened again.
Virtue led the charge for Custer with 22 points and seven rebounds, while Cade Lehman had 18 of his own.
The Wildcats dominated on the glass, pulling down 43 rebounds to Hill City’s 20. The ’Cats won despite having 14 more turnovers than the Rangers and giving up 25 points off turnovers.
The Wildcats close the season at 14-8, falling short of some of the goals it set at the start of the year, Kelley said.
“I won’t say we had a great year. We had a good year,” he said. “We played some tough teams. To have four teams in our region that are top 15 out of eight regions, that speaks volumes for our region. We knew it was going to be tough.”
The Wildcats lose only Drew Lehman to graduation, and will return 11 of its top 12 players next season, including a loaded senior class that will include Virtue, Cade Lehman, Lowe, Dirkes, Boyster, Sedlacek, Ayden Petz and more.
And while Custer’s expectations will be through the roof, Hill City returns most of its team, as does Rapid City Christian, and St. Thomas More will also be reloaded.
“I don’t know if things get any easier. What you can do now until November is going to make a huge difference,” Kelley said, saying his team needs to get stronger mentally and physically. He said while the team made great strides defensively this year, it still needs to improve on that end of the court.
“We have to strive to be a great team defensively,” he said.
Finding more scorers to help the big three of Virtue, Lowe and Cade Lehman will also be critical, he said.
“We only had five kids score in Hot Springs,” he said. “We have to have kids take pressure off our main scorers. That’s something I think will come if we’re willing to put the time in and shoot.”
Custer    16    12    10    9    —47
HS    14    18    11    17    —60
Custer—Cade Lehman 6-9 3-5 15, Rhett Lowe 2-8 2-4 7, Cody Dirkes 0-1 0-0 0, Drew Lehman 1-3 0-0 2, Kyle Virtue 7-12 3-7 18, Roland Sedlacek 2-2 1-2 5, Carter Boyster 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 18-37 9-18 47.
Hot Springs—Braden Peterson 5-8 1-2 14, Matt Close 3-8 8, Josh Kleinsasser 5-11 2-4 15, Kayden Hansen 1-2 0-0 2, Camron Maciejewski 3-7 0-0 6, Aidyn Janis 6-8 3-6 15. Totals: 23-44 6-12 60.
Three-point goals: Custer 2 (Lowe, Virtue) HS 8 (Peterson 3, Kleinsasser 3, Close 2). Rebounding: Custer 19 (Virtue 8), HS 28 (Kleinsasser 8). Steals: Custer 7, HS 5. Assists: Custer 10, HS 15. Total fouls: Custer 14, HS 16. Fouled out: none.
Custer    16    19    18    14    —67
HC    16    14    6    17    —53
Custer—Ayden Petz 1-1 0-0 2, Cade Lehman 6-11 2-2 18, Rhett Lowe 3-5 0-0 8, Brady Virtue 1-1 1-4 3, Cody Dirkes 1-2 4-4 6, Drew Lehman 0-2 0-2 0, Kyle Virtue 9-15 4-5 22, Roland Sedlacek 2-5 2-2 6, Carter Boyster 0-4 2-4 2. Totals: 23-46 15-23 67.
Hill City—Everett Sullivan 2-5 1-1 6, Devin Buehler 10-21 2-2 24, Zane Messick 5-13 0-2 12, Alex Stoeckmann 2-14 1-2 5, Jerrad Hislop 0-1 0-0 0, Brensen Veneklasen 1-1 0-0 2, Ian Jorgensen 2-6 0-0 4.
Three-point goals: Custer 6 (Cade Lehman 4, Lowe 2), HC 5 (Buehler 2, Messick 2, Sullivan). Rebounding: Custer 43 (Sedlacek 9, K. Virtue 7, Lowe 7), HC 20. Steals: Custer 8, HC 13. Assists: Custer 13, HC 12. Turnovers: Custer 24, HC 10. Total fouls: Custer 13, HC 21. Fouled out: none.


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