They’re a team that might have flown under everybody’s radar just a bit heading into this season.
But make no mistake about it, the Neenah boys’ basketball team has all the components needed to compete for the Fox Valley Association title this season.
The Rockets displayed outstanding athleticism from their backcourt duo of Adam Pohlman and Taulvish McCray along with the strong post game of 6-foot-10 sophomore center Matt Heldt in recording a surprising 63-49 victory over Appleton West in an FVA game at Ron Einerson Fieldhouse on Friday.
McCray (11 points) and Pohlman (eight) combined for 19 points and tough defense against the Terrors, while Heldt scored a game-high 21 points and displayed nifty footwork in the paint on offense and defense.
Neenah (6-1, 5-1 FVA) was coming off a tough road loss at Oshkosh North on Tuesday, but rebounded Friday to knock off what many had considered the preseason conference favorite.
“We really wanted to prepare for this because it’s no fun losing two games in a row,” Heldt said. “(Neenah coach Scott Bork) was really enthusiastic about getting ready for this game. It was a big one and, thankfully, we were able to deliver, start off strong and finish it off with the win.”
West (6-2, 4-2) was playing without Austin Berlick due to illness, but the Rockets’ athleticism with Pohlman and McCray attacked the Terrors’ man defense for an early lead.
The Terrors switched out of the defense, which slowed Neenah a bit, but the Rockets still held a 34-22 advantage at the half.
“Neenah deserves credit. They’re a good ballclub,” Appleton West coach Brennan Hussey said. “We simply are not playing basketball to our potential on either end of the floor and we need to figure out how to do that amongst ourselves. We need to dig deeper and get that done. We are not playing good basketball right now and I thought it really showed against a good team tonight.”
Heldt scored four points early to start the second half as Neenah led by 21 points (43-22), but the Terrors rallied a bit at the end of the third quarter, with Jake Verhagen’s dunk closing the gap to 47-35.
The Rockets responded by slowly building back their lead with Heldt frustrating the Terrors inside with layups and sharp free-throw shooting. That was enough for the Neenah defense, which never allowed West to put together any runs of significance.
“We work real hard on defense and coach (Chas) Pronschinske takes the defense and does a great job with it. The kids have really bought in,” Bork said. “They understand if you’re going to do something in this conference that you better be able to defend.”
Sam Erickson and Nate Pronschinske added 10 and nine points, respectively, for the Rockets. Matt Reader had 15 points to lead Appleton West, with Verhagen chipping in 10.
“We came back extremely focused on Wednesday,” Bork said of his team following the Oshkosh North loss. “I thought we had a great practice on Wednesday and Thursday this week. They understood that you have to work every single time and it’s going to be a battle every week, so they did a good job of coming ready to go.”
Appleton West: Reader 15, Harmison 5, Mehrhoff 1, Thompson 2, Verhagen 10, Nelson 6, Schuldes 2, Bishop 2, Wiegman 1, Mielke 2, Lang 3. Totals: 16 13-17 49. Three-pointers: Reader 3, Harmison. Fouls: 15.
Neenah: Pronschinske 9, McCray 11, Pohlman 8, Reshel 2, Becker 2, Heldt 21, Erickson 10. Totals: 23 12-16 63. Three-pointers: Pronchinske 3, Entwistle, McCray. Fouls: 17.
— Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or email@example.com; On Twitter @PCRicardo