When Jake Verhagen and Matt Reader delivered back-to-back dunks in the closing minute, it sent Appleton West’s student body into a frenzy.
It was a spectacular sequence that capped off a West performance that could be best described in a single word.
The Terrors made a bold statement in their boys’ basketball season opener Tuesday night, breaking away from highly regarded De Pere in the second half for an impressive 64-48 nonconference victory.
The West win wasn’t a shocker since it’s no secret the Terrors are expected to be a formidable team. But to post a convincing double-digit victory over a respected De Pere squad that returns three starters from last year’s 24-2 powerhouse — and to do it on the Redbirds’ home floor — was more than any West backer could have asked for.
“This is a really big win for us because De Pere is such a high quality program,” said West coach Brennan Hussey. “It’s a big confidence booster for us because last year we were a pretty young team. Now we’re a mature team and we should expect to win.”
The Redbirds were ranked third among Division 1 teams by the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook in its annual presason poll, while the Terrors were rated eighth. De Pere was the Division 1 state runner-up two seasons ago.
“This feels great, this is really exciting for us,” said Reader, a smooth junior guard, who led all scorers with 24 points. “I think we had a lot of doubters entering this game, but a lot of people have high expectations for us, too.”
Verhagen, an Eastern Illinois University recruit, added 18 points for the balanced Terrors, 14 coming in the second half. Teammates Austin Berlick and Troy Mielke chipped in with eight apiece.
Brevin Pritzl, a gifted sophomore guard, topped De Pere with 15, while athletic Kahree Beaudrie added 13 points.
“We had great teamwork, with a lot of good passes,” said Reader. “We shared the ball well and that’s something we struggled with a little last season.”
The Terrors showed De Pere they were going to be major trouble shortly after the opening tip-off. Berlick opened the game with a three-pointer and West fired off the game’s first seven points.
Playing with both energy and efficiency, the Terrors established a 23-20 halftime lead, then drained three three-pointers in the third quarter to go up by 11 late in the period.
De Pere fought back in the fourth quarter on the strong inside play of Beaudrie and made a run at the Terrors, cutting West’s lead to 40-36 with seven minutes remaining.
Instead of caving, the Terrors responded with poise and precision. Reader scored inside the lane on a slick spin move, then Verhagen came up with a steal and Mielke powered inside for a basket to start a game-sealing 9-0 West run.
“A lot of times early-season games are lost more than they are won,” said Hussey. “We avoided the key errors that lose games. I thought our kids stepped up and attacked.”
The consecutive dunks by the 6-6 Verhagen and the 6-5 Reader finished off a near-perfect night for the Terrors.
“That’s the first dunk of my high school career,” said Reader. “I probably overreacted a bit, but I was pretty excited.”
Appleton West: Reader 24, Thompson 2, Verhagen 18, Nelson 4, Berlick 8, Mielke 8. Totals: 19 20-26 64. Three-pointers: Reader 3, Verhagen, Berlick, Mielke. F: 18. Fouled out: Mielke, Lang.
De Pere: Beyer 10, Beaudrie 13, Coleman 4, S. Mocarski 2, C. Mosarski 4, Pritzl 15. Totals: 17 11-20 48. Three-pointers: Pritzl 2, Beyer. F: 23. Fouled out: S. Mocarski, Pritzl.
— Tim Froberg: 920-993-1000, ext. 423, or firstname.lastname@example.org; On Twitter @twfroberg