MADISON – It has been a transformation of sorts for Xavier boys’ basketball players Will Schlicht and Cal Christensen.
The two seniors are a big reason why the Hawks are within reach of a WIAA Division 3 state title following their 81-74 victory over top-ranked Ripon in Thursday’s state semifinal at the Kohl Center.
Schlicht had 12 points and five rebounds and Christensen added 10 points and five rebounds in support of junior guards Sam Ferris (25 points) and Hunter Plamann (22).
Schlicht was also 2-for-3 from the 3-point arc, with Christensen nailing one of the bigger trifectas in the game right at the end of the first half. His 3-pointer gave the Hawks a 45-33 halftime lead.
Christensen, Schlicht and junior Henry Egan shot a combined 37 percent on the season from the 3-point line. On Friday, the trio finished 5-of-9 (56 percent).
“They both are model kids for our program,” Xavier coach Matt Klarner said of Christensen and Schlicht. “They’re kids who came in as ordinary guys and became elite basketball players. To see Cal make big plays defensively and offensively and knock down some clutch free throws in the end was great. And Will got a couple of great baskets underneath to get us started in the second half and he also came through with some clutch free throws.
“(Ripon) didn’t want to foul our guards. They wanted to foul Will and he stepped up and knocked them down and we knew that he would. It was very satisfying to see those two kids, playing in their final weekend of basketball, giving us incredible effort and incredible play.”
Christensen said reaching the state title game this season is a bit different than the past two seasons.
“This year, with it being my last year, it would be nice to go home with the gold ball,” Christensen said. “We’ll do everything we can and obviously that’s the goal all year. Being a senior, it’s a lot more meaningful than it has been in previous years.”
Caging the Tigers: Eddie Muench led Ripon in scoring with 26 points, but Klarner said the plan was to make the talented Tigers senior work for his points and avoid having him hit from the outside consistently.
Muench finished 0-for-4 from the 3-point line.
“The first thing we talked about in our scouting meeting was keeping Muench off the 3-point line,” Klarner said. “When we watched him on film, we saw how explosive their offense was. And when (Muench) made shots, their kids just seemed to take off to a really high level of play and build off that energy. I thought Cal Christensen started on him today and (Plamann) guarded him for a decent part of the game and those two guys did a great job of chasing him off the line.
“Now he still scored points and probably hit his average. But I thought he had to work really hard to hit that average and I think that (Ripon) never got on an explosive run where they ran off eight or 10 points in a row. I think keeping him off the 3-point line was key to that.”
Said Plamann: “(Muench’s) No. 1 weapon is the three and you have to stay out on that. We wanted to make him be a ball-handler and try and force him into tough shots.”
Patience and more: Christensen said the Hawks “didn’t want to force anything” on offense and that the Hawks wanted to be patient on both ends of the floor.
The Hawks also hit 20-of-26 from the free throw line in the game and that helped immensely in keeping the Tigers from rallying.
“Having them foul us was big and making free throws down the stretch was big, too,” he said. “We were 15-of-18 down the stretch. That’s obviously huge to get the win.”
Christensen also pointed to the Hawks’ defense in the paint as a key.
“Will (Schlicht), Nate (De Young) and Henry (Egan), they all had a huge night,” Christensen said. “They came through and helped us out.”
Owning the glass: The Hawks, despite not having a player taller than 6-foot-5, won the rebounding battle 39-24 against a Tigers team that featured 6-foot-8 Bennett Vander Plas.
Vander Plas had a good night, finishing with 21 points and nine rebounds with six steals, but no other player had more than four rebounds for Ripon.
“Coach Klarner’s teams have always been tenacious rebounders,” Ripon coach Dean Vander Plas said. “And when you’re playing a team that is shooting a lot of threes, the offensive glass is different. A lot of teams are trying to play in the lane against you and at the post and you’re high-pointing the ball two feet away from the rim. And this one, you have to high-point six feet away from the rim, so it’s very difficult to change that mentality. Our kids were doing a good job and you had one rebound where Ferris tipped it out and they just know that their guys are going to be standing around the 3-point line and they tip it right to them.”
Getting ready: One advantage that playing on Thursday provides is that the Division 3 and 4 teams have Friday to install quick game plans for Saturday’s opponent.
For Xavier, that’s Prescott and its 7-foot-1 post player Owen Hamilton, who scored 33 points on 14-of-15 shooting with 11 rebounds. Xavier plays Prescott at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the D3 championship game.
Petey Brookshaw added 14 points for Prescott and Klarner said the coaching staff will do its best to prepare the players but also allow them to rest their legs.
“We will watch the film tonight and put together the game plan, so that’s Step 1,” Klarner said. “(Friday) we will try to talk to the guys and we’ll meet and we’ll go over what we need to do offensively and defensively and also give them a chance to rest up, too. Some of those kids went heavy minutes today and will be physically exhausted and we’ll need them to be at their best.
“But we’ll probably take a couple hours to relax and come to the Kohl Center and watch some of the basketball games (Friday). That’s part of the experience to kind of soak it in. Then have a great night’s sleep Friday night and Saturday we’ll be ready to go.”
Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-7191 or email@example.com; on Twitter @PCRicardo
Carl in 3-Point Challenge
Kaukauna junior Eric Carl will compete in the 3-Point Challenge at the Kohl Center on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Other competitors include Keaton Stremick of Waukesha South, Zach Borden of Kenosha Bradford, Bryce Te Kulve of Luxemburg-Casco, Caleb Gracyalny of Clinton, Colton Groholski of Amherst, Reid Larson of Fennimore, Austin Martin of Random Lake, Nicholas Brozek of Fall River and Neal Cerveny of Gresham.