By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
DENMARK – By the time halftime arrived on Thursday night and Luxemburg-Casco had made 6 of 9 three-pointers and led 46-35, it appeared that this was just not meant to be for Denmark High School.
The Trojans, after all, had come in making less than 30 percent from deep.
When they opened up the second half by knocking down their first two from beyond the arc, eventually opening up a 14-point advantage, the deficit began to seem insurmountable.
But the Vikings had other ideas, clamping down on defense after a woeful first-half performance, and riding their best offensive half of the season to rally from 14 down for an 84-74 victory in Luxemburg.
Combined with Freedom’s loss to Little Chute, the second big road win of the season catapulted the Vikings into a first-place tie in the North Eastern Conference standings at 4-1. Luxemburg dropped to 3-2.
“We were really, really upset with the way we played defense in the first half,” said Zane Short said, who erupted for 18 second-half points to lead the way with 28. “They scored 44 points in their last game and we gave up 46 in the first half tonight. We lit a fire in the second half. Coach said just play defense; we’re getting anything we want on offense. We just had to play with some want and some intensity on defense in the second half.”
Denmark could not have done it without Short, who also added four assists and seven rebounds, nor without the lights-out shooting of Zach Gezella, who rained in seven three-pointers, missing only twice from deep on his way to 25 points.
“Zach just continues to amaze me,” Short said. “The amount of time he spends practicing his shooting, it really shows, doesn’t it? He hit so many big shots tonight. With Brady out, he said ‘I’ve got to step up,’ and he’s really stepped it up. He is a diamond in the rough. He’s taking full advantage of his opportunity.”
Those were two of four Vikings in double figures, with Pat Suemnick adding 12 points and Jack Satori 10. Brennen Miller was a point short with nine as Denmark found the much-needed balance they’d been seeking since the injury to Brady Jens after the season opener.
Denmark missed only five shots after intermission, finishing 19 of 24 after making 12 of its first 15 shots. While the Vikings were catching fire, Luxemburg was finally cooling off, thanks in large part to a Denmark defense that stopped allowing open threes and easy buckets inside. The Trojans made 18 of 26 shots in the first half, but fell off to 44 percent in the second half.
It was a wild, see-saw affair, with Denmark jumping out early to grab a 13-3 lead before barely three minutes had elapsed. But Luxemburg scored 15 straight and kept expanding its lead by hitting almost all of its outside shots when it wasn’t exploiting Denmark’s porous defense for back cuts and fast-break layups. It reached 46-32 before Denmark grabbed some late-half momentum on Gezella’s steal and pass ahead to Short for a buzzer-beating layup.
“We have a lack of communication on defense sometimes,” Short said. “We have spurts where it’s really good and spurts where it’s just dry. We have to get better.”
The Vikings were in an 11-point hole at halftime, which grew to 14 when the Trojans opened the second half with a three 15 seconds in.
That’s when Short took over, while Gezella kept knocking them down. Denmark went on a 27-10 run to finally reclaim the lead at 62-59 on a Miller three with 8:45 left in the game. Miller scored seven of nine Viking points over a two-minute span.
Another 10-4 run that featured a pair of Gezella threes grew the Denmark advantage to nine, and when Short scored on a drive and added a free throw, the Vikings were fully in charge and on their way with a 77-67 lead with less than three minutes to play.
Short put the exclamation mark on it with an end-to-end drive and dunk as the final buzzer sounded.
“That Southern Door game (a 72-68 Denmark loss on Dec. 4) we were down 26 early and we closed the gap,” Short said. “That was early in the season and now when teams go on runs, it’s not something we stress too much about because we know that we have the ability to stop runs and get our own.”
The Vikings (6-2 overall) made, unofficially, 31 of 51 shots, including 8 of 16. Suemnick added 10 rebounds and five assists, while Gezella had four boards, four steals and three assists. Satori dished out four assists and Denmark finished with 18 overall.
Denmark hosts Oconto Falls on Jan. 4.