By Kelly Fenton, The Denmark News
DENMARK — Cody Stelmach has been searching for a fourth scorer, someone to take the pressure off the ‘Big 3’ of Patrick Suemnick, Zane Short and Brady Jens, who had almost exclusively carried the Denmark offense over the first five games.
At least for one night he found him.
Josh Pelischek rained in five three-pointers and poured in 22 points and Denmark High School avenged last year’s season-ending loss to Southern Door and pulled away for an intense 83-65 victory on Friday night in Denmark.
“Josh was crazy good tonight,” said forward Zane Short, who led the way with 25 points. “We really needed it. We all knew he could do it. I think it was just confidence with him. It was great to see him do it tonight.”
Pelischek knocked down three of his bombs in the first seven minutes and that proved crucial as it forced Door out of a 1-3-1 zone that otherwise had the Vikings looking confused and lead-footed. Once the Eagles went man-to-man, Denmark went to town on the inside, allowing Zane Short to take over. Brady Jens added 18 and Patrick Suemnick 11. Suemnick was also a beast on the boards and finished, unofficially, with 18.
Denmark, which improved to 3-3, handed the Eagles just their second loss of the season. Door, which knocked the Vikings out in the second round of the playoffs last winter, came in averaging more than 70 points a game in rolling up a 6-1 mark, and appeared poised in the early going to easily eclipse that average on Friday, racing to an 11-2 lead before three minutes had elapsed.
“We’d had four really good days of practice and I was kind of shocked at the way we started,” Stelmach said. “We were confident coming into this game, but that wasn’t the same team I’d seen all week. We let them settle in a little bit and then Josh started getting it going.”
The Eagles boast a variety of weapons, led by Kyle Daoust’s 25 points a game.
Jack Satori, though, hounded Daoust all night, holding him to 17 points – only four after intermission, and none over the final 14 minutes. Door is a relentless and physical attacking team offensively, often driving to the basket and leaning into defenders to draw contact. But with Suemnick swatting away several shots and Sam Sipiorski rejecting a couple more, the Eagles made just 25 of 60 shots and made it to the line only 18 times.
“From third grade on up, Jack’s always been a great defender,” Short said of the junior who was also the football team’s starting quarterback. “And he knows that’s who he is and takes pride in locking down the other team’s best player.”
“Jack knows his role,” he said. “He is very good with pressure and with moving his feet and playing without fouling. He’s a strong kid and not afraid of contact. He has that football mentality.”
Meanwhile, the Vikings were torrid in the second half, knocking down 15 of 21 shots and finishing the game at 62 percent (31 of 50), including making 8 of 15 from beyond the arc. Jens scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half and also helped settle the Vikings when Door went full-court press after falling behind by 14 early in the second half. Denmark turned it over just five times in the second half.
“That’s what Coach wants me to do and I’m going to do what I can to keep these guys even-keeled,” Jens said.
Pelischek kept the Vikings in it early and helped them overcome a slew of turnovers and defensive breakdowns in the paint. Denmark trailed 14-9 when Suemnick started a 10-0 run with a tough turnaround in the lane followed by back-to-back Pelischek bombs, and the Vikings suddenly led 19-14 and never trailed again.
“I’ve always had the confidence,” said Pelischek, who entered the game with eight points all season. “I just needed to see a few go down. I was just trying to play my role. I know Zane and Pat are key for us inside to win games, so I knew if I hit a couple of shots, it would open things up for them.”
Denmark opened up its first double-digit lead at 32-22 on – what else? – another Pelischek three with 6:40 left in the half. But Door wouldn’t go away and clipped the lead to four with three straight buckets. The Vikings scored the final six points of the half to lead 38-28 at intermission.
Though the Eagles scored twice in the first 45 seconds of the second half, Jens and Pelischek rained in threes and Jens added a tough pull-up baseline jumper to extend the lead to 14. It was the first of several runs the Eagle would make but each time the Vikings answered.
The teams traded baskets over a seven-minute span, with Denmark holding a double-digit lead throughout, but Sam Gerend kept making threes and the Vikings held just a 62-55 lead with 6:36 left and the game remained very much in doubt. Denmark kept attacking and when Short scored on a baseline drive to make it 69-58 at the 4:10 mark, Door was never within single digits again.
Short grabbed seven boards and dished out four assists. Satori handed out five assists and Suemnick three.
“I knew if I were patient my time would come,” Pelischek said. “With Zane and Pat and Brady out there, teams forget about our bench players and the other starters. It was me tonight, but we have multiple guys who have that potential.”