Kaukauna’s comeback falls short in sectional loss

Kaukauna’s comeback falls short in sectional loss

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Kaukauna’s comeback falls short in sectional loss

MENASHA – State title defenses in Wisconsin are tough to pull off, especially with a poised, polished opponent blocking your return route to Madison.

The Kaukauna Ghosts learned that painful lesson Saturday afternoon.

The 2016 Division 2 state champions put together a strong tournament run, but an inspired Cedarburg team crushed the Ghosts’ hopes of back-to-back state titles with a 78-75 win in a boys’ basketball sectional final at the Menasha Fieldhouse.

Cedarburg (24-2) will play Milwaukee Washington on Friday at the Kohl Center in a 3:15 p.m. state semifinal game.

By eliminating the Ghosts, Cedarburg — ranked No. 2 among Division 2 teams in the final Associated Press poll — avenged a 71-49 loss to Kaukauna in last year’s sectional final at the same venue.

The Bulldogs returned all five of their 2016 starters, including standout John Diener, while Kaukauna brought back only two starters in elite point guard Jordan McCabe and forward Dylan Kurey. Cedarburg’s seasoned lineup seemed to make a difference in the rematch against Kaukauna. The Bulldogs fought off repeated runs by Kaukauna at crunch time, taking good care of the basketball and sinking 14 of 18 free throws in the final three minutes.

“They have an experienced team of five starters back from last year and they’ve certainly grown as a team,” said Kaukauna coach Mike Schalow. “I thought that was a big deal and was displayed throughout the game.

“I love the way our guys competed. Their toughness and their will was certainly displayed as well. We battled to find a way. Unfortunately, we were a possession short.”

It was a game that might have ended differently with a healthy Adam Smith in the Ghosts’ lineup. Smith, a talented Minnesota-Duluth recruit and last year’s second-leading scorer, missed almost the entire season with a broken foot which he re-injured while trying to return at midseason.

“It was a rollercoaster season for us,” Schalow said. “We had the injury to Adam and we thought he was coming back and we got him back for a few games and he was out again. And then we had the challenge of the FVA. The league is always good, but I think it was on a whole new level this season.”

With the sensational McCabe pouring in 36 points and Kurey adding 15, Kaukauna (16-10 and a No. 3 seed) challenged the second-seeded Bulldogs, but couldn’t pull off a comeback win.

“Hats off to them, they’re a very good team, a good program, well-coached,” said McCabe. “You’ve got to tip your hat to them when they play like that. For us, it was a fight, a battle. We talked about resiliency last game and we showed that same resiliency. We just couldn’t come up with it.

“But like I said in the locker room, that’s going to drive us, light a fire under us and get us ready for next year, as hard as it is to swallow right now.”

In a hotly contested game with several lead changes, Cedarburg took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Diener with 7:52 left. Diener followed with a pair of conventional three-point plays to spark a 9-1 Bulldogs run that put Cedarburg up 54-47 with 6:47 remaining.

With Kaukauna’s defensive ace Brad Vosters on the bench after fouling out, Cedarburg — which had played a patient, half-court game most of the day — worked the clock with a spread offense. The Bulldogs broke down the Ghosts’ defense to get key inside baskets from Jared Short, before relying on their accurate free-throw shooting to hold off Kaukauna.

“They hit timely shots,” said McCabe. “I think if we played them again, if they don’t hit those timely shots, I think we’d have the ability to pull it out instead of them trying to burn clock in the second half like they did. Say what you will about it, but some good teams do that. Others refuse to do that and just play straight up. But, obviously, it worked for them.”

The Ghosts made it interesting in the closing minute. McCabe scored nine straight points, culminated by a 3-pointer that slashed what had been an eight-point Cedarburg lead to 76-73 with 27 seconds left.

Kaukauna immediately fouled Bulldogs reserve Patrick McKenzie, who had just come off the bench, and McKenzie hit the second of two free throws to push Cedarburg’s lead to four. A pair of McCabe free throws — the second coming with 1.2 seconds left — cut Cedarburg’s lead to three, but the Bulldogs were able to inbound the ball and run out the clock.

“Cedarburg deserves credit for how they played,” said Schalow. “At the same time, we played a lot of minutes with Brad Vosters on the bench and he’s been a great defensive player for us. We missed his presence.”

Diener and Matthew Barber, both juniors, led the Bulldogs with 18 points apiece.

“I thought we had a pretty good run in the regionals and our sectional semifinal against Pulaski when we played really well,” said Schalow. “It was just unfortunate to see it kind of taken away today. It’s hard right now because of all the emotions, but we will have a lot of experience coming back next year, some very good pieces in terms of both skill set and length.”

Cedarburg…

…33

45

— 78

Kaukauna…

…32

43

— 75

Cedarburg: Diener 21, Johnson 16, Stroebel 1, Short 11, Barber 18, Van Tassel 10, McKenzie 1. Totals 24 24-30 78. Three-pointers: Diener 2, Johnson 2, Barber, Short. Fouls: 21. Fouled out: Diener.

Kaukauna: Carl 12, Jedwabny 2, McCabe 36, McDaniel 4, Kurey 15, Eiting 6. Totals 25 21-28 75. Three-pointers: McCabe 3, Carl 1. Fouls: 27. Fouled out: Vosters, McDaniel.

Tim Froberg: 920-993-7183 or tfroberg@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @twfroberg

Jordan McCabe of Kaukauna, left, tries to get off a shot over Jordan Johnson of Cedarburg during a WIAA Division 2 boys’ basketball sectional final Saturday in Menasha.

Jordan McCabe of Kaukauna, left, tries to get off a shot over Jordan Johnson of Cedarburg during a WIAA Division 2 boys’ basketball sectional final Saturday in Menasha.

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