ST. PAUL — Fullerton didn’t allow an injury to senior starter Cynan Wetovick to derail its season in Tuesday night’s Class D-1, Subdistrict 5 semifinal against Palmer.
The Warriors broke a 33-33 tie with an 8-0 run on their way to a 49-39 victory over the Tigers at St. Paul High School. Fullerton advanced, despite seeing Wetovick taken off the court on a stretcher after suffering an apparent head/neck injury when he slipped and slammed his head and back on the court after being fouled with 57 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
"I don’t want to speculate a whole lot, but I don’t think it’s going to be anything serious," Fullerton coach Pat Larsen said of Wetovick’s injury. "Cynan went down and when I got out there, he just said his left hand was going numb, his arm was numb and his toes were tingling on his left foot. I just told him to lay still and we’d take care of him because I wasn’t going to mess with that.
"At that point, Cynan’s health was more important than the game and we wanted to take every precaution."
Medical personnel stabilized Wetovick’s neck and back before taking him off the court via a stretcher. Both teams were then allowed a three-minute warm-up period before the game resumed following an 18-minute delay with Fullerton leading 32-28.
"Our kids responded well to the situation," Larsen said. "We came out a little bit shaky after the layoff and Palmer tied the game, but after we got settled back in and knew that Cynan was going to be OK, we regained our composure and said, ‘Let’s just go play.’"
After Garett Saum made 1-of-2 free-throw attempts in place of Wetovick, Palmer (10-11) put together a quick 5-0 run to tie the score at 33-33 on a Colton Wells 3-pointer with 18 seconds left in the third quarter, but it was all Fullerton after that. The Warriors (9-7) held the Tigers scoreless over the next 4 1/2 minutes and closed the game with a 16-6 run.
"Credit Fullerton — with Wetovick going down, I think they definitely came out and played inspired," Palmer coach Tyler Spitser said. "We hope the best for Cynan — he’s a good player. I think Fullerton came out inspired and wanted to win that game for him and they did."
Tyson Hellbusch scored 12 points off the bench and Ethan Shotkoski had 11 points for second-seeded Fullerton, which advanced to Thursday’s 7 p.m. subdistrict final against Humphrey St. Francis. Gage Horacek added eight points and 10 rebounds and Wetovick had eight points and four rebounds prior to his injury.
Fullerton prevailed despite going 6-of-17 from the free-throw line in the first three quarters. However, the Warriors were 6-of-9 from the foul line in the final 1:40.
"We were hoping the odds were going to finally be with us in the fourth quarter," Larsen said. "My two assistant coaches said we should just quit practicing free throws because it’s apparently just a waste of time because it wasn’t doing us any good.
"But in the end, we hit most of them when it really counted. If we had continued shooting like we did in the first three quarters, we would’ve been in a world of hurt."
Joshua Valasek recorded game-high totals in points (19) and rebounds (13) and Wells hit 4-of-6 attempts from 3-point range to finish with 16 points for Palmer. But the Tigers struggled to score inside and shot 6-of-27 (22.2 percent) from beyond the arc, getting to the free-throw line just four times — all in the first half.
"We expected to see Fullerton’s 2-3 zone right away and we just didn’t make shots," said Spitser, whose team was playing the Warriors for a third time this season, having beat them 52-47 on Jan. 21 in the Goldenrod Tournament at St. Paul and losing to Fullerton 45-42 last Friday at home. "We also came out flat, defensively, at times. Our intensity level wasn’t there on defense and that kind of cost us the game. Fullerton would go on runs and we couldn’t handle the ups and downs."
Palmer took a 13-8 lead when Wells hit a 3-pointer to beat the first-quarter buzzer. However, Spitser said the Tigers may have celebrated a little too much too early.
"We hit the shot at the end of the first quarter and we acted like we had just won the state championship," Spitser said. "We tell our guys every day that you have to play even-keeled and be able to handle the ups sand the downs."
Fullerton outscored Palmer 12-0 in the first 4:14 of the second quarter. Despite 3-pointers by Valasek and Wells, the Warriors took a 26-22 halftime lead and had success forcing the Tigers to score from the perimeter.
"We really wanted to keep Heath McClellan and Valasek from getting post-ups inside, so we had really been working on fronting those guys, squeezing them from behind and then, of course, getting on the boards," Larsen said. "In our (12-0) run, we played good defense and got some transition buckets. We were getting down the floor.
"I really think getting up and down the floor helped us get into that groove a little bit."
Fullerton 49, Palmer 39
Saum 2-14 3-7 7, Horacek 1-6 6-8 8, C.Wetovick 4-7 0-2 8, Shotkoski 5-9 0-0 11, S.Wetovick 0-2 1-3 1, Hellbusch 5-6 2-6 12, Ostransky 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 18-46 12-26 49.
Valasek 7-19 3-4 19, Wells 6-9 0-0 16, Glause 0-10 0-0 0, Reimers 1-6 0-0 2, McClellan 1-4 0-0 2, Dvorak 0-1 0-0 0, Santin 0-0 0-0 0, Wolfe 0-0 0-0 0, Hillmer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-49 3-4 39.
Fullerton 8 18 9 14—49
Palmer 13 9 11 6—39
3-point goals—Fullerton 1-9 (Saum 0-6, Shotkoski 1-1, Hellbusch 0-1, Ostransky 0-1), Palmer 6-27 Valasek 2-8, Wells 4-6, Glause 0-9, Reimers 0-3, Dvorak 0-1). Fouled out—None. Rebounds—Fullerton 33 (Horacek 10), Palmer 36 (Valasek 13). Assists—Fullerton 11 (Horacek 4), Palmer 10 (Valasek 3). Turnovers—Fullerton 6, Palmer 15. Total fouls—Fullerton 13, Palmer 18. Technicals—None. A—NA.
Humphrey SF 39, Cross County 28
ST. PAUL — Chayse Wemhoff scored 11 of his game-high 16 points in the second quarter to lead top-seeded Humphrey St. Francis past Cross County 39-28 in Tuesday’s first D1-5 subdistrict semfinal.
Wemhoff had 11 of his team’s 13 second-quarter points as the Flyers (14-9) took a 21-13 halftime lead. St. Francis will face Fullerton in Thursday’s 7 p.m. subdistrict title game.
Caleb Riley scored 10 points to lead Cross County, which finished its season at 7-16.
Cross County (7-16) 7 6 9 6—28
Humphrey St. Francis (14-9) 8 13 9 9—39
CROSS COUNTY—Andrew Peterson 3, Travis Eller 8, Aaron Giannou 2, Caleb Riley 10, Treyton Nienhueser 2, Kenny Wright 2, Brady Langemeier 1.
HUMPHREY ST. FRANCIS—Brandon Weidner 7, Zach Huettner 7, Damien Baumgart 5, Chayse Wemhoff 16, James Brockhaus 3, Cole Wemhoff 1.