After opening the state tournament with an upset win over Shawano, the Waupaca Comet boys’ basketball team headed to Antigo with plenty of momentum.
It didn’t last long, however, as the Red Robins ended Waupaca’s season by handing the Comets a 56-34 loss Friday, March 4, in a Division 2 regional semifinal.
“They’re a pretty good team,” coach Ron Weber said after watching the Red Robins outscore his team 39-22 in the second half. “They have athletes.”
Waupaca advanced to the semifinal by knocking off Shawano 38-32 Tuesday, March 1.
Antigo 56, Waupaca 34
ANTIGO – The Comets held the Red Robins to four points in the first quarter. Waupaca built a 10-6 lead in the second quarter, but Antigo closed the quarter with a 11-2 run to take a 17-12 halftime lead.
“We hung tough in the first half,” Weber said. “The tempo was in our favor. They had that little run at the end of the half to go up 17-12, but that’s how we needed the rest of the game to go.”
Antigo scored five unanswered points in the first 34 seconds of the second half to take a 10-point lead and Waupaca never got any closer than eight the rest of the way.
“They’re really good at their back cuts and dribble penetration,” Weber said. “If we’re going to succeed, we’re going to have to protect the paint and make them shoot over the top of us. They started hitting some threes and everything went in their favor. They had the lead and we had to try to change the tempo of the game.”
Besides forcing 26 turnovers, Antigo also held Waupaca’s leading scorer, Adam Kaminske, to 10 points.
“You better believe they’re focusing on him, just like Shawano did the other night,” Weber said. “We only scored 38 against Shawano, but we held them to 32. We were able to defend them because they’re not as good as this club. Sometimes, it comes down to where the other team’s better than you. You play the game because things can happen.”
Kevin Moe scored seven points for Waupaca, while Andreas Ezer led Antigo with 13.
The Red Robins are still alive in the tournament, as they beat Hortonville 59-55 Saturday, March 5, in a regional final.
Waupaca 38, Shawano 32
SHAWANO – The Comets took a 12-1 lead into the second quarter on Nate Jenson’s buzzer-beating three-pointer. Although the Hawks eventually trimmed the lead to 17-15 at halftime, Shawano led only once in the game, 21-20 in the third quarter.
Waupaca led 25-24 after three quarters and outscored the home team 13-8 over the final eight minutes despite turning the ball over on seven straight possessions down the stretch.
“It was fantastic the way we responded,” Weber said. “Our kids prepared well and we felt good coming in. It’s a real tribute to them that they didn’t throw in the towel.”
The Comets came into the game with four wins under their belt.
“We answered the call,” Weber said. “We answered the bell every step of the way when we were turning it over.”
Jenson and Moe led Waupaca with 12 points each and combined for seven threes. Shawano’s Jacob Schnell led all scorers with 19.
Friday’s game was the final high school contest for Kaminske, Nito Vasquez and Zach Nellis.
“I’m really proud of the finish this team had,” Weber said. “We had a very bumpy road and I think the kids are feeling they left a lot of the season behind and didn’t become a team until the last quarter of the season. I think they’re regretting it a little right now. We would’ve had to overachieve to get more wins than we had, but we didn’t give ourselves a chance for the first three-quarters of the seasons. We ended up going 3-3.
“I don’t want them to forget that big win at Shawano,” he added. “I want them to feel good about how they’re leaving us. We have six juniors and two sophomores on our tournament roster. They see where you have to get to to be competitive in the league and to advance beyond where we went this year in the tournament. We have a number of young players we feel very good about at the freshman level. It’s in their hands and we’ll see what they do with it. I’m certainly going to be encouraging them.”
The Comets won only two of their 14 Eastern Valley Conference games and Weber admitted that it was a struggle at times.
“It was a tough group to work with,” he said. “They fought me tooth and nail. What I tell all my teams is you have to leave your ego at the door, but we just couldn’t get that. We wanted to play by ourselves. We were right, coach was wrong. It was that whole battle, but those are the teams that I feel best about when they come around at the end.
“It’s like that student who gets an F and then gets an A on the last test of the school year,” he said. “That’s how I feel about this team. They came around.”