The sting of a nonconference loss to Hortonville didn’t last very long for the Waupaca boys’ basketball team.
One day after the Comets came up on the short end of a 62-48 score to the Polar Bears, Waupaca handed Little Chute a 63-59 Eastern Valley Conference defeat Feb. 15. Waupaca also picked up a 52-39 EVC win over Berlin Feb. 11.
Waupaca 63, Little Chute 59
It wasn’t that long ago – Dec. 6, 2013 – that the Comets returned home from Little Chute after falling to the Mustangs 60-33.
The result the second time around was much different.
Although the Comets didn’t have an answer for D.J. DeValk, who finished with a game-high 26 points, Waupaca kept Little Chute from clinching at least a share of a fifth straight conference championship.
“I’m just so proud of the guys,” coach Ron Weber said. “There were so many things working against us today: the tough loss (to Hortonville) last night. We had a building last night with a lot of energy in it. I told the guys, ‘You have to create your own excitement as a group.’ I thought we did that very well.”
Waupaca took a 15-13 lead into the second quarter and led 27-24 at halftime after Bryce Neidert beat the buzzer with a 60-foot shot.
The Comets carried that momentum into the second half and led by as many as five points in the third quarter. The Mustangs took a 34-33 lead midway through the quarter on Chet Peerenboom’s three-point play and DeValk’s third three-pointer and took a 41-39 lead into the final period.
Another DeValk three gave the Mustangs their biggest lead of the game – 49-44 – with 5:35 remaining, but Nate Jenson gave Waupaca a 52-51 lead with 2:56 to go. Little Chute never had the lead again, as the Comets eventually led by seven with 1:25 remaining.
The Mustangs were able to cut the lead to two points twice in the final minute, but never got any closer.
Vasquez led the Comets with 17 points, while Jenson finished with 16 and Neuville and Neidert added 11 each.
“We played exactly the way we want to play, with Zander tough in the first half, Nate coming up big in the second half, Brando (Vasquez) just there all the time with his ball-handing and creating, Bryce doing his role and knocking down some shots, Daniel (Turrubiates) playing defense on DeValk and the contribution off the bench from Tony (Blackwell), Matthew (Waldschmidt) and James (Camann). Just like a script that I guess we could write, it came true tonight.”
Hortonville 62, Waupaca 48
The Polar Bears missed four of their first six three-pointers, but finished 10 of 16 for the game.
Hortonville led 14-10 after one quarter, 29-17 at halftime and 44-29 after three quarters.
“I was waiting for a period of time where they were going to cool down,” Weber said. “They’re good, but their shooting percentage made them great.”
While the Polar Bears were hitting threes, they also converted Waupaca’s seven turnovers in the first half into 11 points.
“I thought we threw some bad passes,” Weber said. “We ran what we typically do. To me, it was more what (Hortonville) did. They didn’t play that clampdown type of sagging defense in the second half. It really did stymie us in the first half.”
Waupaca cut the lead to seven twice in the fourth quarter after getting the ball inside to Neuville and Jenson, who finished with 24 and seven points, respectively.
“That’s what we’re all about, getting it inside to our bigs,” Weber said. “They really struggled to get it in. In the second half, we really got some fine opportunities inside. Why they changed their strategy, I’m not sure.”
Alex Lasinski led four Hortonville players in double figures with 22 points, while Mitch Lillge and Sean Killoren finished with 19 and 12, respectively. Lillge made five of his team’s three-pointers and Lasinski added four.
“I told the guys that I was very proud of the way we fought back,” Weber said. “We played basketball in the second half the way we have to play. We got the ball to Zander and Nate. We tried every defense we had against them in the hopes of something would throw them off a little bit. It just didn’t seem to happen. If they shoot even an average percentage, we’re right in that ballgame, especially from what we established in the second half and our ability to get it into our bigs.”
The two teams will face each other in the second round of the state tournament. Hortonville received a No. 2 seed in the Division 2 Marshfield Sectional, while the Comets are seeded third. Both teams have bye in the first round and will play in Hortonville Friday, Feb. 28, in a regional semifinal.
The winner of that game will take on top-seeded Shawano, No. 4 seed Antigo or No. 5 New London Saturday, March 1, for a regional championship.
Waupaca 52, Berlin 39
Neuville scored 20 points and Vasquez and Jenson chipped in with 11 each.
Waupaca led 13-4 after one quarter, 25-12 at halftime and 38-19 after three quarters. Berlin had a 20-14 advantage over the final eight minutes.
The Comets traveled to Denmark Feb. 18 for a nonconference matchup with the Vikings and will wrap up the regular season at home at 7:15 tonight (Thursday, Feb. 20) against Freedom.