His high school career hanging in the balance, senior Brady Johnson had just one thought when the ball found teammate Matt Ferris.
“I was like, ‘Ferris, you’d better make this,’ ” said Johnson of Ferris’ game-tying three pointer at the buzzer in regulation that forced overtime, and eventually enabled Xavier to outlast Winneconne 60-57 in double overtime in a scintillating WIAA Division 3 regional final Monday at Torchy Clark Gymnasium.
“I was praying,” said Johnson. “I just thought the ball has to go in. This isn’t the end. It can’t be.”
It wasn’t, which enabled fellow senior Seth Maertz to personally ensure his high school career would continue for at least another game.
“Speechless,” said Maertz of Ferris’ three-pointer. “It felt like it was hanging in the air for five seconds. We all hoped it was going in and when it went in you couldn’t even hear, the place was so loud.”
The Hawks (15-9) had to survive a missed 15-footer by Winneconne’s Riley Kallas at the end of the first overtime, before Maertz scored all seven of Xavier’s points in the second overtime to set up a date with top-ranked Little Chute (23-1) in a sectional semifinal Thursday at Menasha High School.
This was a game Xavier could have let slip away early, as it fell behind 18-8 after one quarter, as the Wolves made six of 10 shots from the floor while their 2-3 zone gave the Hawks fits as Xavier made just two field goals in 10 attempts.
“We actually changed the way we were attacking their zone,” Xavier coach Matt Klarner said of his team’s first-quarter struggles. “We just weren’t getting the shots we wanted so we made a little adjustment at the end of the first quarter to attack their zone, and it kind of freed things up.”
Did it ever. The Hawks were at their best both offensively and defensively in the second quarter as they opened with a 19-0 run and outscored Winneconne 21-2 in the quarter to take a 29-20 halftime lead.
“That was our defining moment in this game, I thought,” said Ferris.
But Winneconne, behind the incomparable play of diminutive junior guard Zach Horn, who tallied seven of his game-high 22 points, came storming back in the third quarter and cut its deficit to 37-36 heading into the fourth period.
Two Horn free throws gave Winneconne a 51-48 lead with 23.5 seconds to play in regulation, and after Maertz’s missed three-pointer sailed off a Xavier player out of bounds with eight seconds to play, it looked like Xavier’s season was about to come to a close.
But then Alex DeBruin came to the rescue.
“We had the press on, hoping to get a big turnover, we got one,” said Klarner of DeBruin, who picked off the inbounds pass. “(DeBruin) had great defensive awareness and then made a great pass to kick it out. Heads up play. And we were lucky enough to have the shot go in. Great shot by Matt.”
Ferris never hesitated and knew he had a winner when it left his hand.
“It was going in and it just feels that much better that we won the game,” he said.
After Kallas’ miss led to the second overtime, Maertz took over. Working inside the zone, he powered his way twice to the hole and scored two baskets to keep the Hawks even at 57-57. Then he made another huge play on the defensive end when he stole a pass, was fouled and made two free throws to give Xavier a 59-57 lead with 1:22 to play, and the Hawks would never relinquish that advantage.
“I knew (Horn) was going to look for a three and they’re always trying to get him the ball so I just jumped it,” said Maertz, “and once it was in my hands I knew it was over.”
And on a night that got the jump on madness that is to come in March, the Hawks were thankful to just get over a huge obstacle.
“Give Winneconne credit,” said Klarner. “It was a great game tonight and in the end we came up with one more shot than they did.”
|Winneconne||18||2||16||15||2 4 —||57|
|Xavier||8||21||8||14||2 7 —||60|
Winneconne: Horn 22, Kallas 12, Gereau 6, Hecker 9, Marx 2, Vanden Boogart 6. Totals: 20 9-14 57. Three-pointers: Horn 4, Kallas 2, Gereau 2. Fouls 15. Fouled out: Hecker.
Xavier: Sawasky 2, Ferris 12, Ellis 3, B. Johnson 18, Lenz 6, Maertz 19. Totals: 21 9-16 60. Three-pointers: Ferris 4, B. Johnson 3, Ellis, Maertz. Fouls 15.
–Mike Woods: 920-993-1000, ext. 232; firstname.lastname@example.org; On Twitter @PCMikeW