Looking for a team that has made major strides in the past 30 days or so? The Kaukauna boys’ basketball team certainly fits the bill.
The Ghosts defeated a talented Appleton North team 68-61 on Tuesday for their fourth consecutive victory and did so by displaying some essential traits necessary for success in team basketball.
Whether it was the fearlessness around the hoop by Pat Stevens and Riley Vander Wyst, the defense of Jon Vande Wettering, the blocked shots and key rebounds by Trent Nytes or the clutch free throw shooting from Kyle Schalow, the Ghosts were at the top of their game in the win over the Lightning.
“I thought tonight we had a great team victory, no question,” Kaukauna coach Mike Schalow said. “The first half, I thought we had a pretty good start. We ran some good offense and I thought we were good enough defensively. In the second half, it was an aggressive game, a physical game, and we took advantage by getting to the free throw line.”
The repeated trips to the line were a huge key, as Kaukauna finished 27-of-36 from the line, enabling the Ghosts to fend off a North team that has showed a knack for collecting points in a hurry.
Kaukauna led 32-29 at the half, but a 7-2 run by the Lightning led by baskets from Jared Dudley, Ryan Albers and Ian Gerrity helped North gain a 36-34 lead.
The Ghosts responded, with Vander Wyst burying a three-pointer, scoring on a layup off a steal and also showing some nifty finishing moves around the hoop for another score as Kaukauna led 46-41 at the end of the third quarter.
“That’s kind of my style,” Vander Wyst said of his slashing drives. “I know that if they close in on me that I can kick it out to my shooters. So that’s always nice. But, yeah, I like to attack the rim and get to the free throw line.”
A three-pointer and basket from Gerrity pulled North to within 53-52 early in the fourth, but the Ghosts held off the Lightning with pinpoint free-throw shooting down the stretch, most of it from Schalow, Vande Wettering and Vander Wyst as Kaukauna finished 17-of-22 from the free throw line in the fourth.
Five Ghosts scored more than 10 points, with Vander Wyst leading the team with 18. Stevens (13), Schalow (13), Vande Wettering (11) and Nytes (10) also scored in double digits.
Nytes, a 6-foot-3 junior forward, also blocked two North shot attempts down the stretch and also secured several crucial rebounds.
“Nytes altered so much, even if he didn’t block the shot,” coach Schalow said. “He was also on the glass. If he couldn’t grab the rebound, he tipped it to somebody else. So we were able to get enough stops on the defensive end.”
Kaukauna (10-5, 8-4) appears to successfully shaken off last month’s triple overtime loss to Onalaska, a rematch of last season’s WIAA Division 2 state championship game.
“We’re really coming together here down the stretch here,” Vander Wyst said. “We’re working hard in practice and we just know that we’re a great team if we come together and play together. We’re working hard and it’s paying off.”
Ryan Albers scored 15 points to pace Appleton North (9-6, 6-6), with Connor Gross (14) and Gerrity (12) also reaching double-digits.
Kaukauna: Vande Wettering 11, Vander Wyst 18, Nytes 10, Schalow 13, Stevens 13, Belling 3. Fouls: 11.
Appleton North: Dudley 6, Albers 15, Johansen 5, Lukashewich 4, Gross 14, Gerrity 12, VanHandel 1, Eagan 4. Fouls: 19.
— Ricardo Arguello: 920-993-1000, ext. 558, or firstname.lastname@example.org; On Twitter @PCRicardo