Polar Bears’ 20-point lead slips away
By Erik Buchinger
The sixth-seeded Polar Bears held a 20-point advantage in the second half but let the lead slip away in a 71-65 road loss to No. 2 seed Medford in the WIAA Division II regional championship on Saturday, March 4.
“This is a tough one,” Hortonville head coach Matt Hintz said. “The environment eventually caught up to us I thought. They got it going in the second half, and we weren’t able to weather the storm.”
Hortonville senior Charlie Schabo made six 3-pointers and scored 28 points, including 17 in the first half, which gave the Polar Bears a 29-17 halftime lead.
Hortonville senior Ryan Krueger scored six of his 17 points on two 3-pointers early in the second half in part of a 10-2 run after halftime to put the Polar Bears ahead 39-19.
Both teams were in the bonus for the final 10 minutes, 30 seconds of the game, which Hintz thought was different from the first half.
“We were able to play defense one way to start, but I don’t know if we were allowed to play defense that way the entire game,” Hintz said. “I thought they changed the way they called it, which affected our defense a little bit and got us on our heels. We started to panic after that.”
Medford chipped away at the Hortonville lead throughout the second half, and the deficit was cut to single digits at 56-48 with 8 minutes, 30 seconds left.
Medford knocked down a 3-pointer, pressed Hortonville into a turnover followed by another 3-pointer to cut the lead to one with six minutes left.
Medford’s Garrett Strebig scored all of his 12 points on four 3-pointers in the second half.
Medford took its first lead 61-60 with a layup with three minutes to go.
After Medford extended its lead to three, Schabo knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game at 63.
Hortonville sophomore Braden Vallafskey made one of two free throws to make it 64-63 with 1 minute, 30 seconds left.
Medford came back and scored in consecutive possessions and made two defensive stops, and Osy Ekwueme, who finished with a game-high 30 points, went to the free throw line with 16.1 seconds left, leading 68-64.
A fan from the Medford section went onto the court, and the team was given a technical foul. Ekwueme made a free throw to make it a five-point lead, and Schabo made one of two technical shots to make it 69-65.
The Polar Bears were unable to score on their final possession in the six-point loss.