Of all the area’s WIAA boys basketball regional openers, the one between No. 6 Manitowoc Lincoln and No. 3 Bay Port on Feb. 22 might be the most intriguing.
The two teams are rivals in the Fox River Classic Conference and have already met, with the Ships defeating the Pirates in Bay Port on Jan. 4 51-42. It was Bay Port’s (12-9, 10-5 FRCC) first conference loss while helping to bring out two key contributors for Lincoln (8-13, 6-9) in seniors Kyle Hoffman and Patrick Johnson.
The Ships had been ravaged by injuries up to that point in the season and finally were beginning to see their walking wounded return.
Both Johnson and Hoffman would make key 3-pointers down the stretch as Lincoln erased a 22-19 halftime deficit and outscored the Pirates 32-20 in the second half. Also, not only did Hoffman hit a fourth-quarter 3, he drained a pair of free throws to extend the Ships lead to six with just over three minutes to go after Bay Port cut an eight-point lead in half seconds earlier.
The duo have provided the offensive spark from long range in the past month while teammates Austin Mecca and Jake Rohrer have handled the dirty work inside. Mecca finished the first matchup between the two teams with a game-high 20 points creating a balance offensively both inside and out.
Mecca averages a double-double as the FRCC’s leading rebounder at over 11 per game while adding nearly 16 points per game according to WisSports.com. With Mecca controlling the post, it opens up Johnson and Hoffman to shoot from range with impunity knowing either Mecca or Rohrer is capable of grabbing the rebound.
Lincoln’s record might not be be as pristine as others in the tournament, but the Ships have not been afraid to schedule games with the very best in the state. Four of Lincoln’s losses have been to teams currently ranked in the top 10 in Division 1 according to WisSports.com: Milwaukee Hamilton (No. 2), De Pere, twice, (No. 6) and Sun Prairie (No. 7).
Once the regular season ends a teams record can be thrown out the window when it becomes a win or go home proposition. Lincoln has already proved it can beat Bay Port on its home floor, now it just has to do it again knowing if it doesn’t the season is over.