All the Cardinal cagers could do was watch.
Tom Nystrom’s buzzer-beater flew through the air and settled in the bottom of the net as time ran out Friday, propelling Marshfield Columbus Catholic to a thrilling 69-66 victory over Bangor in a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 5 boys basketball semifinal at the Kohl Center in Madison.
The three-pointer from the left wing gave Nystrom his only points of the game, ending the Cardinals’ Cinderella season one game shy of earning a spot in the state finals for the second year in a row.
“The kid made a shot he’ll remember for the rest of his life. He made a heck of a shot – it’ll be a great memory for him,” said Bangor first-year head coach Jacob Pederson.
A great memory for Nystrom, but a bittersweet one for the Cardiac Cardinals, who overcame a 13-point second half deficit to the score at 66-66 on a Trevor Jones put-back with just 5.8 seconds remaining in regulation.
The rally was the second of the game for Bangor, who also battled back from a 10-point deficit in the first half.
“We got off to a little bit of a slow start. They hit a couple of threes right away. Their top two guys got it going early on,” Pederson offered.
Senior Jarred Mandel knocked down a trio of early three-pointers and senior teammate Bryce Fuerlinger scored five points in the paint to help Columbus Catholic forge a 16-6 lead over the defending champs with 11:44 left in the opening half.
Bangor answered with a 9-0 run capped off by a Jaymeson Freit jumper midway through the first half to cut the deficit to 16-15.
A three-pointer by Freit with 3:20 left in the half would give the Cards a brief 26-25 lead, but the teams traded baskets from there on out, leaving the Dons with a 33-32 halftime advantage.
After making some halftime adjustments, Bangor came out hot in the second half, opening with a basket by Grant Manke and a steal and a layup by Freit to give the Cardinals a 36-33 lead in the first 1:38 of the frame.
Columbus Catholic regained its momentum after that, using a 24-8 run to open up a 57-44 advantage with just under 11 minutes left on the clock.
The Dons held an 11-point lead with 6:21 remaining, but Bangor picked it up on defense and chipped away at the Columbus Catholic lead.
Back-to-back baskets by Manke trimmed the deficit to 64-61 with just under a minute to play, and three-pointer by Freit with 48 seconds left on the clock tied the score at 64-64.
The Dons answered on a driving layup by Mandel that put Columbus Catholic back on top 66-64 with 28 ticks left on the clock.
After a Bangor timeout, a three-point attempt by Freit from the top of the key just missed its mark, but senior Trevor Jones grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds to keep the Cards’ comeback hopes alive.
Jones followed a timeout with a basket in the paint to knot the score at 66-66 with 5.8 seconds left on the clock, but the Dons broke the Bangor press and got the ball to half court in the hands of Mandel, who found a wide-open Nystrom on the left wing.
Nystrom fired the three-pointer with just a second left on the clock, and the buzzer went off as it sailed to its destination, lifting Columbus Catholic to a thrilling win.
“Our defense kept us in the game, forcing 20 turnovers. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort the kids gave,” said Pederson. “We were down 13 with eight or nine minutes left and things really weren’t looking great, but we fought back to tie the game twice. The kid just made a heck of a shot. We had a win like that in the sectional semifinal.”
Columbus Catholic’s size and length played a big role in the game, as the Dons held a 54-39 rebounding advantage over Bangor.
“They had two kids at 6’-3” and another at 6’-4”, so they definitely had us out-positioned at almost every spot,” Pederson said. “We were kind of out-sized at most positions. Trevor, for his size (5’-10”) did a terrific job on the boards, but their size and strength showed.”
Fueulinger, the Dons’ 6’-4” forward, was monster on the glass, grabbing 25 rebounds to set a new Division 5 state record.
Bangor finished with 39 boards, including 22 on defense and 17 on offense, while Columbus Catholic record 35 defensive boards and 19 on offense to finish with 54.
Manke led Bangor with 13 boards, while Jones added seven and Hank Reader finished with six.
The Cardinals also struggled a bit on offense, knocking down just 26 of 76 shots for 34 percent, while the Dons connected on 28 of 28 field goals to shoot 41 percent from the floor.
From beyond the arc, Bangor made five of 21 three-pointers, while Columbus Catholic sank eight of 18 treys.
Manke and Jones scored 20 and 19 points, respectively, to lead Bangor, while Freit finished with a dozen points.
Zane Langrehr, who was nursing a sore knee for most of the game, added a seven-point effort for the Cards, followed by Reader and Jaden Fargen with four points apiece.
“We didn’t shoot as well as well usually do, but it is what it is,” Pederson concluded. “The season has to end at some point, but to end the season in Madison feels pretty good. These guys won 22 straight games and finished with 25 wins. They put their footprint on boys basketball in Bangor.”