By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
this story was updated from Saturday’s capsule
DENMARK – There were competing dramas on display when Freedom came to Denmark on Saturday afternoon.
The game itself, between two of the three co-leaders atop the North Eastern Conference standings; and Brady Jens’s bid to reach the 1,000-points milestone.
Turns out those competing dramas melded into one giant drama as Jens, who needed 17 points to hit the mark, erupted for 21, and that in turn propelled the Vikings to a 65-52 win, keeping them tied with Wrightstown at 14-2. Freedom fell a game behind at 13-3. Denmark will travel to Wrightstown on Monday with a conference title on the line.
It was Jens’s best game by far since his return from an early-season ankle injury and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
“It was great to see Brady playing so well,” said Denmark head coach Cody Stelmach. “You could see it in the (Feb. 15) Marinette game. He was attacking the rim again, so you knew his confidence was back. It was a big game and big players step up in those games.”
Jens followed teammate Zane Short this season in reaching a thousand points in his career. He hit an early three and displayed his pre-injury slashing style that has made him such a duel threat over the past three seasons.
It was just Jens’s second double-figure output in eight games since his return as he struggled to get back into the flow as well as to fully trust his ankle.
“The first couple of games back I think he was frustrated,” said teammate Jack Satori. “He wasn’t quite himself. I think today ‘Old Brady’ was back.”
The game was still in doubt when he stepped to the line for two free throws following a technical foul with 4:28 left in the game and Denmark clinging to a 53-45 lead. He missed the first but made the second to hit a thousand. He would make four more free throws down the stretch, helping Denmark pull away and allowing the fans to relax and to revel in both the critical win and Jens’s big accomplishment.
“I wasn’t expecting it to happen today, but I was very thankful my first couple of shots fell and that really boosted my confidence,” Jens said. “Give a lot of credit to the other guys with their ability to find me today. I’m just super grateful to them.”
Jens’s ankle injury came days before the first matchup with Freedom in the second game of the season and the Jens-less Vikings were held to by far their lowest output of the year in a 51-38 loss. In a reversal of fortunes on Saturday, Denmark hung the largest output of the season – by far – on the league’s top defense. Freedom came in allowing a little more than 40 points a game, never more than 56. Denmark, whose high-powered offense had seemed stuck in mud over a four-game stretch when they never reached 60 points, clicked at the right time, using crisp ball movement and torrid shooting (unofficially, 21 of 37 from the field, 7 of 15 from three) to overcome serious foul trouble that had 6-8 post man Patrick Suemnick on the bench for large swaths of the first and second halves. Freshman Donovan Short provided valuable minutes in his stead, grabbing five rebounds, scoring seven points and blocking a shot.
“Once Donovan settled down, I thought he did a great job for us,” Stelmach said.
As for that sluggish offense of late, Stelmach said the second half of Thursday’s Marinette game, a come-from-13-down 69-65 victory, seemed to shake things loose.
“I think we had gotten too much into isolation,” he said. “Our guys are good enough to isolate and score, but I think we got away from moving the ball and in the second half against Marinette we really got the ball moving and opening things up. That was a big emphasis for us today because Freedom is such a great on-ball defensive team.”
Denmark trailed only once, 13-11, but once a Jens steal and breakaway and a Zane Short bucket inside put the Vikings back on top, they never trailed again. With Suemnick on the bench over the final 12 minutes of the half, Denmark was somehow able to go from even to up 10 and led 34-24 at intermission.
Denmark came out of the locker room on fire, opening with a 9-2 run to expand the lead to 17 three minutes into the second half.
The key point of the game came when Freedom followed with 12 straight points to whittle the deficit to 43-38. Suemnick got a huge stickback, knocked down a pull-up in the lane and swished a three-pointer from the right wing and Denmark had re-established its equilibrium as well as a 12-point lead.
“I’m proud of the way our team responded,” Stelmach said. “We hit them with a punch to start the second half; they came charging back at us and we found a way to stop that run. We’ve worked on those situations in practice and I think that’s translated into the games. They’re in the right spots. They know where to be.”
Freedom got as close as seven at 50-43 but – who else? – Jens sent a rainbow three through the net from the left corner at the 5:58 mark and Denmark converted 10 of 12 free throws down the stretch.
Suemnick finished with 13 points and three blocks, while Zane Short added 12 points, seven rebounds and five big assists.
“Zane played within himself,” Stelmach said. “He didn’t force anything, which was great because we knew coming in we couldn’t have any empty possessions. We knew we had to take great shots and Zane knew that Brady had it going, and he was looking for him.
“I thought overall we just played collectively as a unit.”
Jack Satori scored six points to go along with three assists and a pair of steals. Jens also had three steals. Each team had 14 turnovers. Denmark struggled to contain lanky post player Luke Pingle, who scored 16 with a variety of wraparound moves on the blocks. Pingle was mostly responsible for Suemnick’s and Donovan Short’s four fouls each.
Freedom made just 4 of 18 from deep and 21 of 54 overall.
The Denmark-Wrightstown showdown is at 7 p.m. at Wrightstown High School. The Tigers hit a desperation three at the end of regulation and went on to win in overtime on Jan. 11 for Denmark’s only other league loss.
“Monday will be a good test on the road, but we’ve got some momentum,” said Stelmach. “I know we owe them one.”