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Crawford County senior Jordan Nickelson drops to the floor in disappointment after missing a final three-point attempt against Paoli, who celebrated a 60-58 win to advance to the final of the Crawford County Class 2A Sectional. Photos by Wade Bell

Paoli rallies to oust Wolfpack

Class 2A Crawford County Sectional Semi-Final

March 06, 2013
With their sea of orange in the stands and their voices loud and clear, the Crawford County Wolfpack and their fans had one thing on their mind as they went into the semi-finals of the Crawford County Class 2A Sectional: avenging a one-point loss to the Paoli Rams in the regular season finale. Doing it in the sectional would be the perfect venue. At first it looked like they were going to get their wish, but the Rams rallied together to earn a 60-58 win and advance to the final against the Generals of Clarksville.

"Tournament games are usually games of runs," Crawford County coach Mike Brown said. "You have to take yours when you get a chance and withstand everybody else's."

That first run belonged to the Wolfpack, who began with a running game at warp speed up and down the floor, hitting half of their 16 field-goal attempts. On defense, Crawford County put up a wall of pressure against the Rams, who hit just one of their 10 shot attempts, as the Wolfpack took a 20-6 first-quarter lead.

"We wanted to come out there hard early because we felt like at Paoli a week ago we didn't do that," Brown said. "We laid back and let them do some things we could have taken away and just could have been a lot more aggressive on loose balls and loose rebounds. So, I think that was part of it. And the fact that we had already played and they hadn't. I think we hit them in the face a little bit with that early."

Crawford County’s Brandon Cate, right, works to slow down Paoli’s Lee Wroblewski in the first half.
The Rams slowed the pace down in the second period. Paoli, who had a first-round bye, closed the gap to 10 points, but Zach Thomas and Ranger Caffrey scored to put the Wolfpack up 25-10.

Paoli followed with an 8-0 run as Crawford County turned the ball over three times to cut the Wolfpack lead to 25-18.

Thomas, Brandon Hawkins and Brandon Cate kept the Wolfpack advantage in double digits through the end of the half, with Crawford County leading 37-26 at the break.

"I thought we had them on their heels early in the game," Brown said. "We threw it really well, and they got it back to a seven-point game, which it was mostly a seven- or five-point game most of the second quarter. I was proud of our kids for withstanding their run and staying in the lead and stretching it out at halftime. I was happy with us being able to fight them off."

Crawford County ran into a massive ice berg in the third quarter. The Wolfpack missed all eight of their field-goal attempts and committed five turnovers. Paoli hit seven of their 11 shots in the period to outscore Crawford County 15-6, with all of the Wolfpack points coming from the charity stripe. The Rams were now back in the game down just two, 43-41.

"I thought the start of the third quarter was the story of the game," Brown said. "We were up eight or nine at halftime, and they got the ball and went down and scored. We miss an easy one and they get Zach Thomas' third foul. In two possessions right there, the lead is down to seven and they've got one of our guys with foul trouble."

Crawford County turned the ball over to begin the fourth quarter and Garrett Strange drilled a three for a 44-43 Paoli edge. Crawford County quickly countered with a 7-0 burst, Caffrey getting his second three-ball of the game. Paoli had another run, this one 7-2, to close to within two. The Rams' 6-4 center, Tanner Wroblewski, then fouled out, giving Crawford County new hope.

"We know how important he is to all of them offensively," Brown said. "I think we had our chances after he went out, but give them credit for really hanging in there. Without him in the game, they did a really nice job of still getting good shots."

Crawford County kept its advantage at two until just under a minute to go when Lee Wroblewski drilled an NBA-range three-ball to put the Rams on top, 55-54. Seconds later, Crawford County turned the ball over and Michael Stroud canned two free throws. Johnny Schwartz, however, pulled Crawford County to within one with two freebies with eight seconds left.

With six tics on the clock, Stroud canned two more free throws to put Paoli up 59-56. Two seconds later, Jordan Nickelson was fouled by Stroud. Nickelson easily hit the first one and then tried to miss the second in hopes of his team getting the rebound and a putback basket. The ball, however, bounced forward on the rim and into the basket, leaving Crawford County down one.

Both teams called time-out and then Thomas was called for his fifth foul with three seconds left. Stroud hit the first but missed the second.

Crawford County got off two attempts from behind the arc, the second one bouncing off the right side of the rim, giving Paoli the 60-58 win.

"You want to have your chances, and we just missed so many shots in close around the basket," Brown said. "Then, it comes down to the very end and we've got a couple of open threes. We had a couple of chances to keep the lead and then Wroblewski hit that real long three down there, and that really turned the momentum."

Cate and Schwartz led Crawford County (14-8) with 12 points each. The Wolfpack connected on just 15 of 53 field-goal attempts (28 percent) and 23 of 31 free throws. Crawford County finished with 16 turnovers.

"We shot the ball so well early and had the same shots late and could not get them to go down," Brown said. "That happens. You like to spread that out a little bit because we couldn't miss there early in the game, but, when we needed one there late, we just could not get one to fall for us."

Tanner Wroblewski led the Rams (14-7) with 13 points, and Aaron Key and Austin Moore finished with 12 each. Strange came off the bench to add 10 points for Paoli, who canned 19 of 42 field-goal attempts (45 percent) and 18 of 25 free throws. Paoli coughed up the ball 17 times.

"We're not as strong as them physically, and that kind of wears on you as the game goes on," the Crawford County coach said. "Some of those rebounds we got early in the game we didn't get late in the game. When it's a one- or two-possession game, it's going to come down to who hits the big shots. They hit a couple of really big ones that hurt, and we had a couple of turnovers."

Crawford County will graduate five seniors, but Brown said those seniors have helped to ensure that the Wolfpack will come back with another good team next year.

"I really think we battled very hard and got a lot of these young guys ready to play this year," he said. "The credit to that goes to our seniors. They're a tight-knit group. Our seniors were great with our younger kids this year. They did an outstanding job of bringing them along and helping them out. Hopefully, they set the table for us to be good again next year."

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