Twenty-four hours after a thrilling double-overtime win over Hortonville, the season came to a disappointing end for the Waupaca boys’ basketball team.
Shawano handed the Comets a 31-29 loss March 1 in a Division 2 regional final after Waupaca had opened state tournament play the previous day with a 55-47 win at Hortonville.
Shawano 31, Waupaca 29
SHAWANO – The top-seeded Hawks held the third-seeded Comets to a single free-throw in the first quarter, but Waupaca chipped away at what was at one point a 13-point deficit and eventually tied the game late in the third quarter.
Shawano led 12-1 after one quarter, but Waupaca closed the gap to 16-8 at halftime.
The Comets scored the first six points of the second half to cut the lead to 16-14 and Nate Jenson’s basket with 57 seconds remaining in the third quarter knotted the score at 19-19.
Waupaca never took the lead, as Shawano led 22-19 heading into the fourth quarter and led by as many as six points down the stretch.
“Our beginning was really awful,” coach Ron Weber said. “We couldn’t perform any worse. Sometimes, the situation gets to you and I think that happened to us. We seemed jittery, a little too anxious, throwing the ball at the basket, making turnovers that we shouldn’t be making.
“You have to give credit to Shawano as well because their pressure defense makes you look bad at times,” he added. “I thought we got way better in the second half. We hit a few more free throws and had a couple easy looks around the rim we didn’t knock down. One, they have good size, which plays into guarding Zander (Neuville) and Nate. Secondly, they make it harder for you to move the ball on the perimeter because they’re to get out on the passing lane. We just didn’t make the adjustment quick enough to that pressure. We panicked a little bit and were trying to do things too early on offense. Our offense is designed on reversing the ball and finding those little weaknesses so we’re able to get it in to Nate and Zander.”
Brando Vasquez led Waupaca with a game-high 15 points, but the Hawks held the Comets’ two leading scorers – Neuville and Jenson – to six points each.
Dillon Frechette led Shawano with 14 points.
Waupaca 55, Hortonville 47 (2 OT)
HORTONVILLE – Waupaca outscored Hortonville 12-4 in the second overtime, with all 12 points coming at the free throw line.
The Comets trailed 15-8 after one quarter and 20-15 at halftime, but outscored the Polar Bears 13-10 and 8-6 in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. Both teams scored seven points in the first overtime.
Neuville led Waupaca with 18 points, while Vasquez added 16 points and hit six straight free throws in the second overtime. Eleven of his points came in the two overtime periods. Jenson also finished in double figures with 12.
Mitch Lillge and Sean Killoren led Hortonville with 10 each.
The loss to Shawano was the final high school game for Jenson, Neuville and seniors Bryce Neidert, Daniel Turrubiates and James Camann.
“It was really sad to walk out of the locker room and leave those seniors,” Weber said. “I wanted to stay with them, they mean so much to me. You look at Nate Jenson and having him for four years, Zander for three and the others for two and being such an important part of the program.
“That’s the toughest thing,” he said. “I’ve been at it a long time, but boy, when you lose a group of five like this, it hurts, it really does. I was talking to them and I got to the point where I didn’t have anything more to say. I didn’t want to stop talking because I knew that was the last time that I was going to talk to them as a group.
“What you would like out of a group like this is No. 1, that we would be playing in sectionals,” he said. “It didn’t come to fruition, but they achieved a lot and gave our fans a good season. Every season’s a journey and I enjoyed this journey so much this year with those guys.”