The Neenah Rockets desperately needed to hit the reset button following the coolest of starts Tuesday night.
The best way to reboot on the basketball court is to bury a few shots, and that’s where Taulvish McCray, Ty Hegg and Adam Pohlman stepped in.
The trio combined for four three-pointers in the first four minutes of the second quarter to give the Rockets the boost they needed to stay on top of the Fox Valley Association standings with a hard-earned 69-61 boys’ basketball win over a relentless Kaukauna team at Ron Einerson Fieldhouse.
Neenah, tied for third with Germantown among Division 1 teams in the Associated Press state poll, trailed 7-4 at the end of an icy first quarter that saw countless shots clang off the rim.
But the Rockets got rolling in the second quarter. McCray and Hegg opened the period with threes and Pohlman drilled two more to lead a 13-0 Neenah charge that allowed the Rockets (17-1, 13-1) to take control and build a 31-22 halftime lead.
“That first quarter was tough,” said Neenah coach Scott Bork. “We had guys that were way too hesitant to shoot it. Taulvish hit a big shot right away to start the (second) quarter and that got us going. Everyone kind of loosened up and we just played. It was a horrible (first) quarter, but we were only down by three. It wasn’t like we had dug ourselves this huge hole.”
Kaukauna (14-6, 10-6) was determined to limit the touches of Neenah’s 6-foot-10 post player Matt Heldt and did a fine job of that the first half, but that opened up things on the perimeter for the Rockets’ shooters.
“Coach just told us in the huddle at the end of the first quarter to step into our shots with confidence,” said McCray, who scored a season-high 13 points. “We just had to hit our shots and run better offense. Kaukauna usually sags off me and sometimes that gets in my head, but my coaches and teammates all gave me the confidence to come out and play my game. It really helps when you go to the huddle and everyone tells you to keep shooting and don’t get down on yourself.”
Neenah led the rest of the way and opened up a 15-point lead after three quarters, but had to fight off a furious fourth-quarter rally by the sharp-shooting Ghosts. With athletic Trent Nytes scoring 12 of his game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter and Carter Belling and Kyle Schalow connecting from three-point range, Kaukauna slashed Neenah’s double-digit lead to 66-61 with 1:10 remaining.
But that’s as close as the Ghosts would come. Neenah’s Alec Becker sank a free throw and Heldt scored off transition with 43 seconds left to pull the Rockets out of the danger zone.
“This win was a lot of hard work,” said McCray. “Kaukauna is a really good team. They have really good shooters and they’re well-coached. They always give us a run and it makes for a fun game.”
Heldt finished with a team-high 18 points, while Pohlman had 15 points, 12 assists and five rebounds. The Rockets shot 55 percent from the floor compared to 39 percent for Kaukauna.
Nytes topped the Ghosts with 18 points, highlighted by a third-quarter dunk. Schalow and Belling added 11 points apiece. The Ghosts have been playing quality basketball and had a six-game winning streak snapped.
“We never backed down,” said Kaukauna coach Mike Schalow. “We’re not looking at it as a moral victory, but we’re very pleased with the progression of our team over the last three or four weeks. The guys played hard. I thought our effort, toughness and ability to compete were outstanding. We were an extremely resilient team tonight and can walk out of here with our heads held high.”
Kaukauna: Meyerhofer 2, Patterson 9, Nytes 18, Schalow 11, Smasal 4, Hansen 6, Belling 11. Totals 19 16-19 61. Three-pointers: Belling 3, Schalow 3, Hansen. Fouls: 17.
Neenah: McCray 13, Becker 10, Pohlman 15, Pronschinske 5, Heldt 18, Boccheciamp 2, Hegg 6. Totals 26 9-17 69. Three-pointers: Pohlman 3, Hegg 2, Pronschinske, Heldt, McCray. Fouls: 14.