Thompson Falls Blue Hawks enjoy perfect week

by CHUCK BANDEL
Valley press | January 13, 2021 12:00 AM

One emotionally drained and partially hoarse fan existing the gym at Thompson Falls High School Saturday night summed it up pretty well, “I guess that’s where they get the term ‘nail-biter.’”

This was a barn-burner, a cliff-hanger and a thriller all rolled into one awesome basketball game.

In the end, the Thompson Falls Blue Hawks boys basketball team found a way to hold off a furious Eureka comeback and secure a 64-60 Class B win.

After bolting to an early lead and dominating the first half, the Blue Hawks faced a smothering Eureka zone defense in the second half that all but erased a 47-28 halftime lead.

In the end, it came down to a foursome of clutch free throws by Thompson Falls forward Dante Micheli, who twice stepped to the charity stripe, drew deep, calming breaths and sank four game-saving shots in the final 15 seconds of play.

Micheli, who scored 17 points, was sent to the free throw line via intentional fouls by Eureka, which was hoping for a miss that would give them a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Not on this night. It set the stage for what could be a down-to-the-wire February rematch between these two conference heavyweights.

The Blue Hawks’ win, coupled with an equally thrilling win over Mission earlier in the week, boosted their season mark to 3-0. The loss dropped Eureka to 2-1.

After a few brief lead changes in the opening quarter, Thompson Falls athleticism and deadly outside shooting propelled the Hawks to a 24-14 lead after the first eight minutes of play. Junior point guard Nathan Schraeder led the perimeter assault, scoring nine of his team-high 22 points in the opening frame.

He was joined in the early fireworks by 6-5 post Cody Burk who used his 250-pound inside presence to draw several fouls and allow him to sink four free throws as part of his six-point opening quarter contribution.

The second quarter featured more aerial gunnery from Schraeder, who threw in a trio of 3-pointers as part of a 13-point outburst that jacked the Blue Hawks lead to 19 points at the half, including one of the 3-pointers that found the bottom of the net at the buzzer.

Then, the complexion of the game and the cardiac capacities of the large, mask-be-decked crowd came under assault.

The Lions came out in a collapsing zone defense that all but shut off the Hawks inside game. They also clamped down on Schaeder, who was held scoreless in the third quarter.

By quarter’s end, Eureka had outscored the hosts 20-8, whittling the once-commanding halftime lead to 55-48.

That set the stage for a fourth quarter to remember. With Thompson Falls slowly finding a few openings in the zone defense, they managed to let the lead get no closer than four points until the Lions came within 62-60 with just eight seconds to go.

Enter Micheli, who towed the line and sank both ends of a one-and-one opportunity, effectively cutting off Eureka’s hopes of a comeback.

A final 3-point Lion’s attempt as the final buzzer sounded barely missed the mark, but it would have been in vain had it gone in.

In addition to Schraeder’s 22 points, Thompson Falls got nine points each from forward Kade Pardee and Burk.

The win over Eureka came two days after the Blue Hawks won a down-to-the-wire game in St. Ignatius.

In that game, the host Bulldogs, who were looking to rebound from a season-opening loss to nearby Ronan, jumped out to a 19-12 first quarter lead. However, the Blue Hawks came back with an 18-13 advantage in the second period to cut the gap to 32-30 in favor of Mission at the half.

The third quarter saw the Blue Hawks assume the lead, 45-41 by outscoring the Bulldogs 15-10.

Thompson Falls, which got a team-high 20 points from Micheli, was able to hold off a late Mission rally in the fourth quarter and secure their second win of the season. Pardee scored 14 points to aid the Blue Hawks effort.

The Blue Hawks boys play in Bigfork Tuesday, then return home Saturday for a game with Deer Lodge at 1:30 p.m.