By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
DENMARK – The Denmark Vikings, whose late-half and late-game lapses last season led to many a tough loss, is one year later developing a reputation for remarkable resiliency.
It’s not that the lapses don’t occasionally pop up. One did late on Tuesday night in Marinette, when the Marines used a 12-2 run over the final 2:25 of the first half to whittle a 16-point lead to six at intermission.
But Denmark withstood every run, never relinquished the lead after the 6:30 mark of the first half and picked up its third impressive North Eastern Conference road win, 85-71, to improve to 6-1 and keep pace with Freedom, which also improved to 6-1 on Tuesday.
“This team is coming along,” said head coach Cody Stelmach. “On the road, facing adversity and a pretty good crowd, we really showed resilience. Marinette made some good runs, but we had good runs right back at them. I like that ‘it’ thing we’ve got going on the road this year. It’s different from years past.
“The confidence is only going to help us going forward.”
Denmark got two standout performances on Tuesday, none better than that of Zane Short, who is making a bid for conference player of the year. Against Marinette, Short poured in 35 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out five assists, snagged two steals and even blocked a shot. Post man Patrick Suemnick also came up big with 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
“When Zane is in the moment, he’s a very good player,” Stelmach said. “He’s very intelligent with a high IQ. Sometimes he overthinks things, but he did well here tonight on the road in keeping his composure. He really made some great plays for us in the second half.”
The Vikings shot it well again on Tuesday, knocking down, unofficially, 31 of 58 from the floor, including 9 of 19 from deep. Three players finished with five assists: Short, Suemnick and point guard Brennen Miller.
“I thought Brennen did a really good job of being that distributor, making that extra pass to give those big guys easy opportunities at the rim,” Stelmach said.
On the defensive end, Denmark shored things up in the second half, especially against leading scorer Matt Wagner, who had only seven of his 26 after intermission. Denmark used an occasional 1-3-1 trap on its way to forcing 17 turnovers, but when the Vikings were in man, it was up to Jack Satori to shut down Wagner.
“I’d like for our defense overall to be a little better,” Stelmach said. “We lost their shooters a couple of times, but I thought Jack really made good adjustments at halftime against Wagner. He wasn’t letting him catch it and he was really making him work. He was tired at the end.”
In fact, despite Denmark playing essentially only five all night, it was the Marines who wore down at the end, eventually making only 10 of 30 in the second half, and just 5 of 17 from deep. Still, it wasn’t easy shaking Marinette (4-3). After leading by as many as 15 in the second half, Denmark found its advantage whittle to 71-65 with 5:40 left in the game.
Starting with a Suemnick dunk off a missed Denmark free throw, the Vikings scored eight straight to re-take control. Miller scored on a driving basket, then fed Suemnick for an easy bucket inside. Zach Gezella finished off the run with a pair of free throws to extend the lead to 79-65 with under three to go and that was pretty much it for the Marines.
The Vikings trailed by five early in the contest and were down 24-20 with 7:30 left in the half when they played some of their best basketball all season, eventually going on a 22-4 run to open up a 42-26 lead with 3:00 left in the half. Marinette, though, outscored Denmark 12-2 the rest of the way – including Wagner’s banked-in three at the buzzer – to close the gap to 44-38 at halftime.
Back to back threes from Satori and Miller early in the second half eventually had Denmark comfortably back in business at 60-47, but Marinette knocked down three threes over a three-minute span to crawl back to within six at the 6:30 mark.
A Short stickback started a 10-2 run, and the tired Marines started misfiring from long range.
Denmark (8-2 overall) also has road wins at Little Chute and Luxemburg-Casco to put them in good standing atop the conference, tied with Freedom, the only team to beat the Vikings in league play.
Satori finished with nine point and two assists; Gezella added eight points, nine rebounds and four steals and Miller finished with five points, five steals and five assists.
Wrightstown rolls into Denmark for a 7 p.m. tip on Friday. Brady Jens, who has missed all but the season opener, is expected to be back in action a week from Saturday at Oconto.