Fall River senior Matthew Miller (40) holds up the team's sectional championship trophy as sophomore Julian Ramczyk (21) and senior Cullen Rauls (3) celebrate following an overtime win over Heritage Christian at Watertown High School on Saturday, Mar. 11.
There’s been excitement surrounding the Fall River boys basketball team all season long. The Pirates spent the entirety of the 2022-23 season ranked in Division 5 and have backed that up with postseason success. On Saturday, Mar. 11, No. 1 seeded Fall River rolled into Watertown High School and toppled No. 2 seed Heritage Christian 82-75 in overtime of the Division 5, Sectional 4 final to punch a ticket to state.
While Fall River is about a 20 minute drive north from Sun Prairie, the two communities are undeniably interlocked on the boys basketball court this season. Three of Fall River’s best players, seniors Cullen Rauls and Colin Vieth as well as junior Ceegan Rauls, are all Sun Prairie transfers. Following Saturday’s dramatic victory, another common moniker describes all three of them: sectional champions.
“It’s a dream come true,” Cullen Rauls said. “It really is. We’re going to state. There’s no better way to describe it. This is a dream. All the credit really goes out to my teammates. We do this as one.”
While Vieth and the Rauls brothers provided the local draw, they were certainly not the only ballers on the team. Junior Shavlik Schultz proved to be a stellar piece on both sides of the ball and junior Ayden Price knocked down clutch free throws down the stretch. Perhaps no one shined brighter on Saturday than sophomore Zack Osterhaus, though. Left alone at the top of the key with time winding down in regulation, he stepped up and knocked down his only three pointer of the game, tying the game at 63 to force the overtime period.
While Saturday’s Sectional final would turn into a dramatic back-and-forth affair, the Pirates of Fall River had a vice grip on the game early. Cullen Rauls led the way, knocking down a pair of three pointers as his team leapt out to an early 20-10 lead. Six different Pirates scored during this run as the offense was firing on all cylinders.
Things took a terrifying turn with about two minutes left in the first half as Heritage Christian’s best player, junior Mike Bowen, came crashing down to the court on his neck while leaping up for a rebound. He would walk off the court under his own power, but the Patriots were now without a massive piece of their scoring while trailing by seven points.
In an inspiring twist, this boosted Heritage Christian to play its best basketball yet. Junior Desmond Jones led the charge, scoring 10 points of a 13-0 run that bled over from the end of the first half into the beginning of the second as the Patriots took their first lead of the game, 29-28.
Fall River responded with a rare shooting slump. The buckets just weren’t falling as Heritage Christian’s run evolved from 13-0 to 20-1 as it took a 36-29 lead. It took almost five minutes for Cullen Rauls to drop in Fall River’s first field goal of the second half.
Now in comeback mode, the season seemed to be in real trouble with about nine minutes to go as Cullen Rauls picked up his fourth foul. Trailing 48-41, the Pirates’ best scorer headed to the bench. Fall River would score two straight buckets without him, then immediately surrendered a 6-0 run to fall behind 54-45 with five minutes to play.
Then, Cullen Rauls checked back into the game. He, immediately hit an and-one bucket to change the tides. His work from the free throw line, coupled with a contested layup and crucial three point shot from Vieth, led Fall River back into the game, now only trailing 63-60. Osterhaus followed with his show-stopping triple, tying the game and keeping the season alive for four more minutes of overtime.
“We knew it would take a battle,” Cullen Rauls said. “We saw there was still plenty of time left. It could go either way as long as we stayed focused and executed like we knew how to.”
Osterhaus’ heroics carried over into the overtime period as his and-one bucket helped Fall River retake a lead it would never again relinquish. Schultz hit back-to-back layups for good measure as the Pirates then locked in from the free throw line. Fall River’s final 10 points all came from the charity stripe with only four misses.
Heritage Christian couldn’t battle this consistency. The final horn sounded, signifying an 82-75 win and a shot at state for Fall River. The players spilled onto the court in celebration. Vieth ran right to the Rauls brothers, lifting Cullen up before Ceegan joined in for a celebratory hug.
Cullen Rauls led Fall River in scoring with 28 points. He was one of five Pirates to surpass double digits in scoring, joined by Osterhaus with 13, Vieth and Schultz with 12, and Ceegan Rauls with 10. Jones of Heritage Christian tied Cullen Rauls for the game high in points with 28 of his own.
Cutting down the nets was a sweet feeling for the Pirates. This coming week will be even sweeter. Fall River will travel to UW-Madison’s Kohl Center for the 2023 Division 5 state tournament. The Pirates earned the No. 3 seed and will play in the second Division 5 game against No. 2 seed McDonnell Central Catholic on Friday, Mar. 17, approximately 20 mins after the first game which begins at 9:05 A.M. According to Cullen Rauls, the Pirates are not to be taken lightly, either.
“We’re going to be dangerous,” Cullen Rauls said. “We’re coming for that golden ball.”