By KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
Updated from Saturday brief to include full game story and quotes.
DENMARK – Five seniors who had played together for almost a decade set a goal for themselves when the season got under way in November: Make this Denmark basketball team one that will be talked about in the future.
Leave a legacy.
No matter what happens the rest of the way, those seniors and their teammates can rest assured they’ve done just that. On Saturday night in Denmark, the Vikings avenged last year’s season-ending loss to Sheboygan Falls and held on for a 63-57 victory to capture the Division 3 regional championship.
“These guys all had a goal of getting down to Madison so we’re two down with two to go,” said head coach Cody Stelmach as his Vikings get ready for the sectional semis. “I’m happy with the way the guys responded. They fell down eight early but were able to collect themselves and find a way to put a run together.”
They did it by playing old school basketball, which bested the modern style favored by the Falcons: drive, dish and launch. While Sheboygan Falls was throwing up 27 threes, Denmark was being nothing but patient and yet at the same time aggressive, attacking the Falcons’ extended 1-3-1 zone by getting the ball to the high post and then so often down on the blocks for easy buckets. It worked especially well when Zane Short, who led Denmark with 25 points, moved to the center of the zone in the second half, and he and 6-8 post player Pat Suemnick played pitch, catch and score during a crucial stretch that turned a 36-33 deficit into a 55-48 lead with 3:00 left.
Six different times after intermission one or the other scored down low off the other’s assist.
“I kind of saw that at the end of the first half,” said Suemnick, who finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. “I told Zane I was wide open and then when they overplayed me, I yelled ‘switch,’ and then I was able to get it to Zane. It worked really well.”
Said Stelmach: “We wanted Zane in the high post because he’s a playmaker and he’s taller so he could see over the defense and get it to Patrick. We did a great job of that in the second half and it eventually made them adjust and then they had to sag way off.”
Even then it wasn’t without drama, though, as Denmark – with the ball and a seven-point lead — committed two straight turnovers and allowed the Falcons to crawl to within three less than a minute later. The Vikings might have put it away but made only 3 of 6 free throws to lead 58-52 – two three-pointers from tying – with 39 seconds left. But the Viking defense held the Falcons scoreless until 14 seconds remained, by which time Denmark led by nine.
“There was no panic,” Suemnick insisted. “We didn’t want this to be our last game. We five seniors have been doing this together since I was in sixth grade and they’ve been doing it even before that. We’re a tight group.”
Brady Jens added nine points and five boards, while Zach Gezella contributed eight points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. Jack Satori dished out four assists and snagged a pair of steals, and Short collected his second double-double by adding 10 rebounds, two steals and three assists to his 25-point outburst.
Inside Game Beats Outside Game
Denmark won the game at the three-throw line, knocking down 18 of 30, while the Falcons, too intimidated to come down into the paint and challenge Suemnick, launched more threes than twos and got to the line only five times. Suemnick blocked two shots and altered plenty of others.
Sheboygan Falls made 10 of 27 from deep, 22 of 53 overall.
“I got guys coming at me left and right and I’m just standing in the middle,” Suemnick said. “Coach told me going into the game they like to do dribble-handoffs and put their heads down and just barrel to the rim. It helped a ton playing them last year. That team is high intensity and scrappy.”
Denmark missed only five second-half shots and finished 21 of 40 overall, 3 of 7 from beyond the arc.
The Vikings, who became only the second team in school history to win a conference and regional crown, will take on Valders in the sectional semifinals on Thursday at Chilton High School. Denmark earned a share of the North Eastern Conference with Wrightstown and Freedom last month.
Saturday was special in another way. Zane Short became the all-time leading scorer at Denmark. His 25 points give him 1,277, eclipsing Dan Kuehn’s previous mark of 1,267 in 1985. Short had only six at halftime but as he has done so often throughout this 20-4 campaign, took over in the second half, either on the receiving end of nifty passes or creating space and knocking down midrange pull-ups. His layup off a Suemnick feed put Denmark up for good at 44-43 with 7:08 remaining. That bucket launched an 8-0 run that proved decisive.
Sheboygan Falls provided a real challenge with its quickness and crisp passing on offense and its tough-to-solve 1-3-1 on the other end. In the second half they also employed at times a 2-1-2 full-court press. It forced Denmark into 14 turnovers that seemed to come in bunches. When they weren’t turning it over, though, the Vikings found ways to attack, get to the rim and to the line. It is notable that Denmark finished with, unofficially, 13 assists on their 21 field goals.
The Vikings trailed 26-18 late in the first half before an 8-0 run that included Short’s buzzer-beating 8-footer tied it at 26-26 heading into the locker room. The Vikings committed three turnovers in the first two minutes of the second half, but lost no ground, and eventually took a 33-29 lead on Suemnick’s and-one bucket on the blocks. Sheboygan Falls scored seven straight to retake the lead.
This season will be remembered for so many milestones: the opening of the new arena, the conference co-championship, the 20-win season – only the second in school history – two 1,000-point scorers in Jens and Short. And now, a regional championship.
“We were patient,” Stelmach said. “We waited for the guy to come open and dump it down low. That’s what a senior group should do, find a way to win it at the end. Going into the season, they wanted to be one of those teams people talk about for a long time.
“But we’ve got a bigger goal. We want to get down to Madison.”
Denmark opened the season with a rout of Valders. The margin of victory was just 11, but Denmark was in control from the start. In that first game in the new arena, Suemnick skied for 22 rebounds. Valders, the four seed, upset top seed Southern Door, 58-52, on Saturday night. Valders has won six straight regional titles. They missed out on a D3 state championship a year ago when Prescott hit a basket at the buzzer.
“It’s amazing,” Suemnick said. “We got a share of the conference and now we’ve got the regionals. Now I want to make it to Madison. That is the ultimate goal. We’re feeling pretty confident.”