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Cubans upset Iowa-Grant for regional title
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The Cuba City Cubans boys' basketball team captured the WIAA Division 4 regional championship trophy with a 44-40 win over #1-seeded Iowa-Grant in Livingston on Saturday, March 5. - photo by Lynn Price

LIVINGSTON – The third time proved to be the charm for Cuba City as the #4-seeded Cubans pulled the upset against top-seeded and #8-ranked Iowa-Grant, 44-40, in a WIAA Division 4 regional final game held at IGHS on Saturday, March 5.

The Cubans (17-7 overall) avenged a pair of hard-fought losses to the Panthers (22-2) during the regular season behind an all-round team effort as they ended I-G’s 22-game winning streak with Saturday’s thrilling victory.

“It was a great team win. We knew playing on their home floor that they were going to be a tough competitor. I was happy to come out of there with a victory,” said Petitgoue, who has led the Cubans to a regional final game in each of the last nine years.

The first order of business for the Cubans was for their defense to keep the Panthers’ high-scoring duo of senior forward Isaac Anderson and senior guard Brayden Johnson under some sort of control. The pair went off for 60 combined points in I-G’s 71-60 win over Cuba City on Dec. 17, and then combined for 27 of the team’s points in a 43-39 win over the Cubans on Feb. 5.

Anderson, who was injured in I-G’s regional semifinal win over Belleville on Friday but played on Saturday, netted a team-high 15 points for the Panthers in the regional final; while Johnson, who scored 32 and 19 points in the first two meetings between the teams, was limited to just eight points on Saturday.

“We got tremendous defensive efforts from Chris Moor on Anderson and Justin Droessler on Johnson,” Petitgoue noted. “I thought we controlled Johnson better than the last two games, and that was the difference.”

The Cubans started off strong after jumping out to a 10-0 lead five and a half minutes into the game, but the Panthers were able to cut the gap to 15-13 heading into the halftime intermission.

Petitgoue’s squad continued to maintain their lead on I-G throughout the second half, although the Panthers refused to go down without a fight. A 3-pointer by Anderson with 30 seconds remaining brought the hosts within a possession at 40-37, however the Cubans hit enough free throws down the stretch to seal their 17th victory of the season and earn a sectional berth.

Sophomore guard Blake Robson poured in a game-high 17 points to lead the Cubans after connecting on 6-of-9 shots from the field including a 3-of-5 effort from beyond the 3-point arc. He also led the team with two steals.
Senior center Brady Vaassen tallied 11 points and seven rebounds for Cuba City, while Droessler went 4-of-5 at the foul line and matched Moor with six points apiece. Moor added six boards.

Senior forward Ben Burkholder came into the night averaging nearly 21 points per game this season, but was held to just four points by the Panthers. He did match Vaassen with a team-best seven rebounds.

“They did a nice job on Ben, but we had other guys step up. (Blake’s) confidence is high shooting the ball right now, and Brady played one of his best games all season,” stated Petitgoue.

The Cubans advance to Verona on Thursday, March 10, to face SWAL-rival Darlington (19-5) in a D4 sectional semifinal game tipping off at 7 p.m. The #3-seeded Redbirds knocked off #2-seed Deerfield, 64-51, on Saturday to earn their first sectional berth in 20 years.

“They have a tremendous basketball team and they are at full health. It’s going to take a Herculean effort to beat them, but we’ll go out and give it our best shot. That’s why they play the games,” said Petitgoue.

Thursday’s winner advances to the sectional final game in Baraboo on Saturday, March 12, against either #3-ranked Melrose Mindoro (24-0) or Aquinas (13-11) with a state berth on the line. Tip-off is set for 1p.m.

“We’ve been an underdog in each playoff game, and we’ll be an underdog in each of our remaining games as well. We’re playing with house money right now,” admitted Petitgoue. “At this particular time of the year, you have to be loose. You can’t be afraid of losing. You just have to go out there and give it your all for 36 minutes because it could be the last game you play.”

The Cubans advanced to Saturday’s regional final game by knocking off #5-seeded New Glarus, 52-26, in a D4 semifinal contest at CCHS on Friday, Feb. 26.

The Black-and-Gold built up a 27-19 halftime lead on the visiting Glarner Knights (15-9), and then outscored the guests 41-26 in the second half to run away with a double-digit victory.

Ben Bukholder netted a game-high 22 points along with eight rebounds and four steals to lead the Cubans. Chris Moor tallied a season-high 15 points and nine rebounds, while Justin Droessler chipped in with 15 points, seven rebounds and three steals.

Blake Robson added nine points and two assists for the hosts.

Austin Schlueter scored 16 points and Trey Taylor added 13 for the Knights, who were held to a season-low 45 total points by the Cubans’ D.

“We have to play good defense because we don’t always shoot the ball very well,” commented Petitgoue. “It was a tough game, but we played well.”

Cuba City……….  15    29 – 44
Iowa-Grant……..  13    27 – 40
  Cuba City – Blake Robson 17, Justin Droessler 6, Brady Vaassen 11, Ben Burkholder 4, Chris Moor 6. Totals – 15  10-19  44.
  Iowa-Grant– Reeves 5, Johnson 8, Anderson 15, Hill 9, Price 3. Totals – 15  4-6  40.
3-point goals– CC 4 (Robson 3, Moor 1), IG 6 (Johnson 2, Anderson 3, Hill 1). Total fouls– CC 14, IG 16.
New Glarus…….  19    26 – 45
Cuba City………  27    41 – 68
  New Glarus– Taylor 13, Blum 3, Krekow 7, Santamassino 3, Schlueter 16, Brooks 3. Totals – 16  4-13  45.
  Cuba City – Blake Robson 9, Justin Droessler 15, Brady Vaassen 3, Nathan Timmerman 2, Ben Wagner 2, Ben Burkholder 22, Chris Moor 15. Totals – 26  12-23  68.

  3-point goals– NG 9 (Taylor 2, Blum 1, Krekow 1, Santamassino 1, Schlueter 4), CC 4 (Robson 2, Burkholder 1, Moor 1). Total fouls– NG 18, CC 14.