WALLACE — The Wallace Miners were one of the most exciting basketball teams in North Idaho to watch this season, largely due to their two best players Zach Welch and Erik Brackebusch.
The senior duo was outstanding this season, leading the Miners to their best regular season record in years at 17-4, but it was their yin and yang style that made them so intriguing.
Welch, a lethal scorer who now holds Wallace’s single-game scoring record (more on that later) is a quiet leader, who lets his game speak for him.
Meanwhile, Brackebusch is a vocal, passionate player who often can be found hyping himself or his teammates up with his on-court intensity.
This dynamic made the Miners dangerous.
“I tend to be really loud and you know what’s on my mind,” Brackebusch said. “Zach is usually pretty quiet, but if he does say something, you had better listen.”
As a team, the Miners quickly showed their unwillingness to take a back seat to anyone locally by winning the Silver Valley Tournament, and then a week later they embarrassed the Kellogg Wildcats with Brackebusch and Welch leading the Miners to a 20-point blowout win.
“That felt good,” Welch said.
From there it was Wallace beating everyone who got in their way — St. Maries, Genesis Prep, Priest River, Bonners Ferry, Lakeside. All tried, all failed.
Together, Zach and Erik navigated a difficult schedule, injuries to teammates, a shallow bench ... you name it and they dealt with it.
Which only made them stronger.
“We have been playing together for so long it’s like we already know what our teammates are thinking,” Welch said.
In back-to-back games the Miners lost Carter Bailey and then Hunter Stutzke, basically making stealing every ounce of experienced depth that they had.
Then they beat Genesis Prep with essentially five players (six if you count the brief seconds Welch was off the court plugging a bloody nose).
Suddenly their rotation was that of one guard and four guys who usually played as bigs, but were now the Miners’ premier wing defenders and shooters.
“Us, Triston (Neubauer), Logan (Brantz), and Hullsy (Logan Hull) have been on the same AAU teams for years so when it was down to us we weren’t really worried because we had been together for so long,” Brackebusch said.
After suffering their first two losses in a rematches with Genesis Prep and Kellogg late in the season, the Miners needed something to reignite the fire that had began to fade as the long season caught up with them.
It happened on Jan. 30.
Zach Welch went off for 52 points on 14-of-19 shooting from deep to lead the Miners to huge win over Clark Fork.
“It was so fun to cheer him on that night,” Brackebusch said of Welch’s 52-point game.” Watching him do it was incredible, just so much fun to be a part of such a big moment.”
For Welch it was almost instinct, shots kept falling and falling, and then he even decided to get up and break the rim on a dunk.
“The hoops just looked huge that night,” Welch said. “It was like the size of the entire backboard.”
Despite the seemingly premature ending to this dream season, the Miners’ dynamic duo should be proud of what they accomplished even if it wasn’t quite where they wanted to end.
“I wanted to experience the state tournament,” Brackebusch said. “The regular season was a success, but I’m disappointed that we didn’t make it.”
“This whole season was a blast,” Welch said. “It was definitely something we’ll never forget.”