Wildcats one win away from state tournament

Jason Ferguson
Behind three players in double figures, swarming defense, big shots from role players and just enough clutch free throws, the Custer High School boys basketball team got within a game of the Class A State Basketball Tournament next week by virtue of a 64-57 win over the Belle Fourche Broncs last Friday evening in the second round of Region 8A play.
The win, which took place at the Armory, sent the Wildcats into a SoDak 16 matchup with the Crow Creek Chieftans, which was played last night and ended after press time. The Chieftans were 19-2 on the year, had the most seeding points in Region 6A and were the third seed in the SoDak 16. The Wildcats took a 16-6 record into the matchup as the 14th seed.
Custer head coach Paul Kelley said Crow Creek is a dynamic team with a couple of strong post players—in particular 6-5 senior Luke Wells—who can play inside and outside.
“Their post players might be the two best post players we have gone against all season long,” he said. “And they have some good guards around them.”
Crow Creek has been a high scoring team all season, so Kelley said it’s imperative his Wildcats play good defense while also being efficient on the offensive end.
“They score a lot of points, but they also give up a lot of points,” he said. “They are a team that is just going to try to outscore you.”
The Wildcats led for the majority of the game last Friday against Belle Fourche and seemed poised to put the game away on a few occasions, only to see the Broncs battle back to make the game only a single possession or two possession game.
“It was a fun, exciting game. It was just a great atmosphere,” Kelley said. “Belle is always going to play hard and they always have good athletes. We had plenty of opportunity to stick a dagger in them and they just kept fighting back.”
The only time Custer trailed was at the outset of the game, as the Wildcats found themselves down 6-3 before scoring the next four points, including a Dustyn Fish drive for two.
After an Aiden Giffin bucket put the Broncs back on top Fish scored two more to reclaim the lead for Custer, which was pushed to six to start the second quarter after Jace Kelley collected one of his six steals in the game and converted it at the other end for two of his game-high 22 points. Kelley went over 1,000-career points in the game as well.
A Gunner Prior three-pointer put Custer up 17-11 early in the second quarter, and a Gage Tennyson putback extended the lead. Custer continued to lead by eight points for the rest of the quarter, thanks to a corner three from Kelley and a pair of Kelley free throws with just over a minute remaining in the half.
The Wildcats took a double-digit lead for the first time at the beginning of the third quarter thanks to an AJ Kortemeyer basket inside that made the score 29-19. Kortemeyer had 13 points and a team-high eight rebounds in his final game at the Armory.
“AJ has come on so strong and done some great things,” Coach Kelley said.
Belle Fourche got a Tate Larson three-pointer to cut into the lead, but the third quarter then became the Prior show, as the reserve guard drained consecutive three-pointers to push the Custer lead to the biggest it would have all game—13—before diving baseline and dishing to Kortemeyer for a basket. Prior buried another three-pointer moments later and finished the game with a varsity career-high of 14 points while connecting on four of his five three-point attempts.
Coach Kelley said he was grateful Prior was able to boost the team as Belle Fourche used a “triangle-two” (assigning two players specifically to Kelley and Fish in an attempt to take them out of the game) to start the third quarter.
“We know Gunner is a shooter and there was going to be a game eventually where he did that. Thank God it was this game,” he said. You need people like that this time of year to step up and surprise other teams.”
Belle Fourche refused to go away, however, and whittled the Custer lead down to five after a Colby Nowowiejski three-pointer later in the quarter, and cut the lead all the way down to three moments later thanks to a Lan Fuhrer basket. Kortemeyer stopped the bleeding for Custer off a basket inside via a pass from Kelley and Custer took a 44-39 lead into the fourth quarter.
The lead was back up to 11 by the time three minutes had ticked away in the third quarter following a Daniel Sedlacek basket as well as another Kelley steal and basket.
The Broncs made one last run, however, getting three points from Kelby Olson and some free throws that shrank the Custer lead down to six.
Kelley answered with a step back bucket at the 4:55 mark, and Kortemeyer added to the lead with a pair of free throws. With 1:20 left in the game Olson made two free throws for Belle Fourche that cut Custer’s lead back to five, but from there, with both teams in the double bonus, Custer sank eight of 12 free throws in the final 1:15 to seal the game.
“That’s going to be huge (against Crow Creek),” Kelley said. “If we want to pull the upset we have to do the little things, and that includes making free throws.”
On March 3, the Wildcats hosted the Hot Springs Bison in the first round of Region 8A play and cruised to a 60-28 win behind 19 points from Kelley and 12 from Fish.
The Wildcats began the game on an 8-0 run, largely thanks to Kelley, who spun inside for a basket, hit a three-pointer and scored off an offensive rebound early in the game.
After the Wildcats led 14-6 at the end of the first quarter, they began to pour it on in the second quarter, starting with a pair of Fish free throws that made the score 18-8. By the five minute mark, Custer was up 24-8 following a steal and basket from Kelley, which was followed by a Kortemeyer basket off nice passing from Dathon Elmore to Kelley, who then whipped the ball inside to Kortemeyer.
With 3:04 left in the half, EJ Gonzalez hit a pair of free throws to put Custer ahead 28-9. By the time Sedlacek took the ball to the hoop for another basket late in the first half, the Wildcats led 34-9.
Custer continued to pour it on in the third quarter and got a basket from Kortemeyer on a baseline spin inside, which was followed by a Tennyson putback for a basket that put the Wildcats up 30 at 40-10 with 5:10 left in the third quarter. That lead began the running clock for the remainder of the game.
Custer 9 18 17 20 —64
BF 8 11 20 18 —57
Custer—Gunner Prior 4-5 2-2 14, Dustyn Fish 3-6 2-2 8, Daniel Sedlacek 1-5 1-2 3, Jace Kelley 6-23 9-17 22, EJ Gonzalez 0-1 0-0 0, Gage Tennyson 2-5 0-0 4, AJ Kortemeyer 5-9 3-5 13. Totals: 21-54 17-28 64.
Belle Fourche—Colby Nowowiejski 3-8 4-4 12, Keaten Benson 0-1 1-2 1, Kelby Olson 6-14 3-5 16, Lan Fuhrer 1-5 0-0 2, Aiden Giffin 7-14 5-6 19, Brextin Garza 1-4 0-0 2, Tate Larson 2-6 0-0 5. Totals: 20-52 13-17 57.
Three-point goals: Custer 5 (Prior 4, Kelley), BF 4 (Nowowiejski, Olson, Larson). Rebounding: Custer 31 (Kortemeyer 8), NF 30 (Giffin 9). Steals: Custer 11 (Kelley 6). Assists: Custer 11. Turnovers: Custer 13, BF 11. Total fouls: Custer 19, BF 23. Fouled out: Tennyson, Larson, Benson). 
Custer 14 20 11 15 —60
HS 6 4 10 8 —28
Custer—Dathon Elmore 0-3 0-0 0, Gunner Prior 0-4 2-2 2, Dustyn Fish 3-5 4-4 12, Daniel Sedlacek 3-6 1-2 7, Jace Kelley 8-18 0-0 19, EJ Gonzalez 0-1 3-4 3, Gage Tennyson 3-9 3-4 9, Kaleb Wragge 0-1 0-0 0, Tristen Schelske 1-1 0-0 3, Quade Parker 0-1 0-0 0, AJ Kortemeyer 2-5 1-2 5. Totals: 20-54 14-18 60.
Hot Springs—Aidan Savage 0-3 0-2 0, Leon Bloom 0-3 0-0 0, Braden Grill 4-6 0-0 8, Michael Rooks 0-1 0-0 0, Cade Lockhart 0-2 0-0 0, Landon Iverson 0-1 0-0 0, Wrider Allison 4-12 1-2 9, Caden Kasper 0-1 0-0 0, Matt Close 0-2 0-1 0, reston iverson 3-5 1-1 10, Jacob Haertel 0-1 0-0 0, Zane Cope 0-0 1-2 1, Camron Maciejewski 0-5 0-0 0. Totals: 11-42 3-8 28.
Three-point goals: Custer 6 (Kelley 3, Fish 2, Schelske), HS 3 (P. Iverson 3). Rebounding: Custer 32 (Tennyson 7), HS 22. Steals: Custer 11 (Kelley 6). Assists: Custer 8, HS 6. Turnovers: Custer 10, HS 20. Total fouls: Custer 11, HS 13. Fouled out: none.

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