The Hortonville boys’ basketball team knew it had a tall order against Bay Conference foe West De Pere on Friday night, so it pulled out all the stops.
Switching defenses? Yep. Three-point shooting and playing tough inside? Check. Dozens of bad Christmas sweaters in the enthusiastic student section? You got it.
“Their crowd … that’s a loud crowd. That rattled us a little bit,” Phantoms junior Chandler Diekvoss said after his team’s 60-52 win over the Polar Bears.
Even though Hortonville (4-4 overall, 3-2 Bay) fell short, first-year coach Matt Hintz is trying to get his young team to take the next step as it closed out a stretch of five straight home games this month.
“We’re scrappy, we really are,” said Hintz, who saw the Polar Bears finish the home stretch with a 3-2 record, but hold opponents to fewer than 42 points per game. “That’s a credit to the kids. We have to be better rebounders, but they play hard and we have got some toughness. We can be kind of a pest, you know?”
Although the Phantoms (5-1, 4-0) had three starters taller than Hortonville’s tallest player — 6-foot-4 junior reserve Taylor Pahl — and built an eight-point lead early in the second quarter, they suddenly found themselves unable to sustain the margin.
The Polar Bears ran off an 11-3 spurt to finish the half in a 29-29 tie, confounding West De Pere with tight, switching defenses that forced three turnovers and an offensive foul on four straight possessions midway through the second period.
“They play with such intensity; you can’t practice something like that,” Phantoms coach Andy Werner said of the Polar Bears. “They try to get it chaotic and get turnovers, and they did that.”
Even with only three seniors in the main nine-player rotation, Hortonville kept running at the Phantoms, twice taking brief leads in the second half. West De Pere, which found itself saddled with foul trouble to its big men, could never build more than a six-point lead until it made eight of 10 free throws in the final 70 seconds after pushing the ball inside.
“We’ve got a lot of length, so we focus on getting up and getting the rebounds high where no one else can get it,” the 6-5 Diekvoss said after scoring 19 points for West De Pere, second only to 6-7 sophomore center Cody Schwartz’s 20.
While the Polar Bears’ youth bodes well for the future, seniors such as scoring leader Jacob Bamke want to make it memorable now as they don’t have another year for the building project.
“We’re better on defense this year … I know (the underclassmen) think of me as their leader and I want to take them under my wing,” said Bamke, who finished with a team-high 17 points, including 10 of Hortonville’s 11 points over a stretch in the second and third quarters that gave it a 34-33 lead.
“I’m not going to get any better without them and I can show them how to play varsity basketball.”
The Polar Bears still have some chasing to do as they pursue West De Pere and perennial state power Seymour in the Bay Conference. They like the way it’s feeling in Hortonville, though.
“I think that’s the best we’ve played and we’re getting better every day,” Hintz said. “4-4 (record) doesn’t do our team justice. I’m new to them and they’re new to me, and we’re learning a lot of stuff. We just need to learn to close out games because we haven’t been in that situation very much.”
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West De Pere: Kochen 4, Owens 9, Konshak 6, Diekvoss 19, Schwartz 20, Fink 2. Totals 16 23-31 60. Three-pointers: Diekvoss 3, Owens 2. Fouls: 16.
Hortonville: Lasinski 4, Lillge 10, Frederick 5, Bamke 17, Van Hammond 1, Thomas 5, Witthuhn 2, Killoren 2, Pahl 6. Totals 17 12-16 52. Three-pointers: Lillge 2, Lasinski, Frederick, Bamke, Thomas. Fouls: 18.