By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
WRIGHTSTOWN – Cory Haese takes a mostly laisses faire approach with his Wrightstown shooters. If the circumstances are right, let it fly.
Jacob Beining deemed the circumstances – tie game, 24 seconds left in a Division 3 regional championship, open in the left corner – to be right.
Turns out his impulse and his aim were right as well. His only bucket of the game helped the Tigers fend off a remarkable Little Chute rally for a 63-60 victory, concluding a three-game sweep of the Mustangs and, more importantly, propelling them into the sectional semifinals on Thursday night when they will take on Xavier, winners of 53 straight games, at 7 p.m. at Menasha High School.
“Jacob missed his first three or four and they stopped guarding him, but he kept shooting,” said Haese. “This is our 24th game and we don’t want to discourage kids from shooting, and he’s one of our better shooters. So, yeah, keep jacking, man. We were getting offensive rebounds so that’s okay if we miss the shot.”
Little Chute used a 27-10 surge over a 10-minute span of the second half to climb back from a 17-point deficit and knot the game at 52 on a Sawyer Huss spin move. Though James Hansen and Tyler Kroes followed with clutch three-pointers and Kroes added a driving reverse lay-up with 1:59 left, Noah Mueller sank five straight free throws to draw the Mustangs even again at 60 with 1:19 remaining.
Beining, who had earlier missed a three with his team holding a three-point lead, took an inbounds pass in the left corner from Hansen. Unguarded, he hesitated for an instant before swishing it. Little Chute had two chances to tie it, neither of them optimal. Mueller, who was deadly all night and led all scorers with 29 points, barely drew iron on a well-guarded off-balance three and, after the ball caromed out to the top of the circle, Keenan Stevens missed at the buzzer, and the Tigers prevailed in a thriller in front of a nearly packed Wrightstown gym as Wrightstown improved to 20-4.
“I just had to take it,” said Beining, whose brother similarly won a sectional game several years ago with a last-second bucket. “I was a little hesitant because I hadn’t been shooting the greatest. I’m just real happy about the win. I’m glad we get another week.”
Little Chute concluded a 17-7 season, with three of those losses coming to Wrightstown — the final two of those each by three points.
“It’s such a great feeling, winning a regional championship,” said Mayson Hazaert, who led Wrightstown with 19 points. “I mean, we had a big lead and it got close but thank God we were able to finish it out. Maybe we got a little passive, but every team makes a run and all that matters is we got more points. We played defense when we needed it most.”
Mueller scored 19 of his 29 points after halftime, while Wrightstown sharpshooter Luke Haese was completely denied the ball by Stevens after Haese rained in his fifth three of the game two-and-a-half minutes into the second half, a shot that provided Wrightstown it’s biggest lead at 42-25.
But the Tigers grew careless, turning it over on eight of 11 possessions and allowing the Mustangs to crawl back into it. Still, Wrightstown seemed well in control following a Mayson Hazaert three and a Jeremy Van Zeeland fast-break bucket with 8:40 remaining that extended the lead back to 13. Mueller, though, scored seven straight points as part of a 12-0 run to whittle the deficit to one at the 4:54 mark.
“We talked at half that they would make a run,” Cory Haese said. “They have one of the best players in the league and he put on a one-man show. We just wanted to run good offense in the second half, but we got lazy and complacent. We were fortunate to have a couple of shots fall for us at the end.”
Wrightstown got off to a sluggish start, falling into a 9-5 hole four minutes in. The Tigers grabbed their first lead on a Will Braeger three-pointer, part of a 16-4 run. With four threes over the final 5:23 and seven over the final 10 minutes of the half, Wrightstown carried a 37-22 into the locker room. The Tigers knocked down 13 of 30 from beyond the arc, with an improbable seven players contributing at least one.
Mueller was almost enough to offset all that.
“In the tournament it’s all about survival,” Cory Haese said. “We’re just excited to get out of here with a good victory in front of our home crowd. It was a lot of fun.”
Haese finished with 17 points, while Hansen had six points and six assists. Van Zeeland added five points and eight rebounds and Beining also grabbed six rebounds. Braeger contributed five points, as did Kroes, who may be accorded unsung-hero status in this one. Kroes not only played stout defense in his time guarding Mueller, he dished out three assists, snagged a pair of steals and scored five points – all in the final minutes. The 5-11 guard also went among the trees to grab five rebounds. Kroes was coming off an 8-assist game in an 85-74 win a night earlier against Wittenberg-Birnamwood.
“Tyler Kroes is so valuable for us,” Hazaert said. “Yesterday, he came off the bench and came up huge and today he carried that confidence and played defense when it mattered and gave other guys good looks.”
Said Cory Haese: “He’s a warrior. He’s just a competitor. I can’t say enough about him. He had a wonderful weekend.”
In the win over Wittenberg, Hansen scored 27 and Haese added 26.
Xavier (24-0) is scoring 92 points a game, with five players averaging in double figures, led by Hunter Plamann’s 22.6 points. Four Hawks have made 40 three-pointers or more. As a team, Xavier has made 54 percent of its shots, including 40 percent from three.
“Xavier is amazing,” Cory Haese said. “They’re unbelievable. We’re just happy to have a chance. We’re going to compete and see what happens. There’s no pressure on us at all.”