Clinton County

Chi-Hi boys outlast Hudson to win fourth straight



The Hudson boys basketball team did all it could to take Chi-Hi leading scorer Aaron Knez out of Friday’s Big Rivers Conference game.

As the Raiders learned the hard way, that’s awful tough to do.

Limited in what he could do on the floor, Knez led the Cardinals by making 12 of 14 free throws in the fourth quarter to help Chi-Hi hold off Hudson for a 56-50 win that was every bit the battle that the score implies.

Drawing fouls and keeping the Cardinals (13-7, 7-4 BRC) attacking from the free-throw line late in the game made the difference for Chi-Hi, which struggled to keep Hudson in line despite leading at halftime.

“Even when we were ahead at halftime I thought Hudson had kind of outplayed us more of the first half than we had,” Chi-Hi coach Tim Thompson said. “We really set a great tone coming out in the third quarter. I thought the second-half execution was really, really good. We just did what we needed to do all the way through, making all the free throws at the end of the game. The guys did a terrific job, I’m really pleased and proud of them.”

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The Cardinals made 21 of 36 free-throw attempts as a team and scored 16 of their 22 points in the fourth quarter from the free-throw line. Knez finished with 21 points while Sam Mayberry chipped in with 10.

Knez, Jake Sperry and Nolan Johnson each hit early 3-pointers in the first quarter to get Chi-Hi off to a hot start. Sperry’s 3 was the first basket of the game and provided the Cardinals with a lead they would never surrender despite Hudson’s high-intensity defense that, for a time, controlled the pace of the game.

“They played a diamond-and-one on us today,” Thompson said. “Earlier in the year Antigo did that and Wausau West did that some and some of these teams caused us some trouble. But now we’ve started to see it enough and practice against it enough that guys are comfortable. I thought we had some really excellent interior passing today. Even when they took Aaron Knez out of the game, our other guys were able to execute and get done what we needed to. I credit to us having some real smart players and some good basketball players.”

Knez leads the team in scoring and fills a leadership role on the court, but he isn’t the only player on the team capable of taking control. The Cardinals have used their ability to find the hot-shooting hand regardless of who it is to make their depth and athleticism a threat to any team that faces them.

“We’re just relaxed,” Johnson said. “We’re going to let the game come to us. We’re not going to force anything. We’re going to be strong with the ball and we’re going to knock down our free throws to seal the game if we have to.”

As much as the Raiders (9-14, 4-7 BRC) aimed to limit Knez, Chi-Hi turned its defensive focus to Hudson’s junior guard Matthew Sparstad. The Cardinals limited Sparstad to 11 points with seven of the coming in the fourth quarter.

“He’s a great shooter, a great player,” Knez said of Sparstad. “We knew we had to keep him in check and we did. It was an all-around great team effort. The defense was absolutely outstanding down the stretch. It won us the game.”

It’s more than just a conference win for Chi-Hi, which had endured a stretch of five straight losses before a 42-41 nonconference win over Holmen on Feb. 10 set the team back on track. Since then the Cardinals have won four in a row with two games remaining in the regular season.

“We were kind of reeling a little bit emotionally,” Thompson said of the losing streak. “They’re really good kids, but if you lose five in a row, it’s tough to have the same level of confidence that we did earlier when we won six in a row. They won that game against Holmen and just since then you can just see a different look in their eyes. Guys here are really feeling good about themselves.”

Chi-Hi will host Onalaska for a nonconference game on Tuesday before traveling to face Menomonie on Thursday to close out the regular season. A win over Menomonie would guarantee the Cardinals at least a tie for second place in the BRC.

“If you had told me that we were going to tie for second place in the conference at the beginning of the year, I’d’ve had a hard time believing it. We’re just going to keep playing and let other people decide how good we are. We’re just going to play and try to win the next game.”

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