MENOMONIE — Chi-Hi boys basketball coach Jason Proue got just the response he was looking for on Friday evening as the Cardinals picked up their first win of the season with a 52-41 victory over Menomonie.
Chi-Hi (1-1, 1-1) jumped out to a 40-30 lead at halftime in its season opener at Hudson on Tuesday before falling 78-68. Friday evening it was the second half that was the strongest for the Cardinals as the team outscored Menomonie (0-2, 0-2) 32-21 in the final 18 minutes after the two squads battled to a 20-20 tie at the break.
“It really started defensively,” Proue said of his team’s second half surge. “It started with five straight stops (defensively). We track our stops and we try to get three in a row, then we build on that and try to get six. I thought our defense was there, our energy on defense was really there. We took away their initial action and we stayed disciplined enough to extend our possession defensively.”
The Cardinals opened the second half on a 9-0 run started by a basket from Alex Nelson before Thomas Robarge and Nick Bruder scored the next seven points to push the lead to 29-20. Menomonie was able to trim the lead to four on a few occasions, but each time the Cardinals had a response to not allow the Mustangs to get any closer.
An old fashioned three-point play from Bryce Daniels put the team back up 36-29 with 7:32 to go. Luke Franz drilled a 3-pointer from the wing with 6:30 left to put the Cardinals up 39-32.
Menomonie whittled the deficit to four once again at 41-37 with 3:40 left on a pair of free throws by Dylan Boecker before senior Thomas Robarge drilled one of the biggest baskets of the game, a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc on the wing to push the Cardinals in front, and after a pair of free throws from Daniels to go ahead 46- 37 the Mustangs would not get any closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“We talk a lot of times about just playing basketball and time and situation, but we can’t shy down in a close game, we’ve got to stay aggressive,” Proue said. “Stay aggressive while being smart and I thought the guys did a nice job with that.”
Tyler Robarge led the Cardinals with 12 points. Daniels added 10 points and Nelson and Thomas Robarge each had nine to lead a balanced offensive effort.
“Energy is something we’ve been talking about since day one,” Proue said. “If we have energy, good things will happen for us. Our challenge to our team is to keep that energy high no matter what and I thought we did a nice job with that tonight.”
Boecker had a team-high 12 points for the Mustangs.
The win was also the first as a varsity coach for Proue, who is in his first year as head varsity coach after coaching the team on an interim basis for the 2012-13 season when the Cardinals finished 0-23.
“I’m really proud of everybody,” Proue said. “The bench was really awesome, there was energy, there was a buzz and it was really exciting.”
Chi-Hi has a quick turnaround as they play at Onalaska on Saturday before the Cardinals have their home opener on Tuesday against D.C. Everest. Chi-Hi is back in conference action next Friday at Rice Lake.