Right from the start it was evident both teams knew what was on the line when No. 1 Valders and No. 2 Roncalli met on Thursday at the JFK Fieldhouse.
The winner of the WIAA State boys basketball Division 3 sectional semifinal between the two Manitowoc County rivals would earn bragging rights for the rest of the offseason while advancing to Menasha on Saturday.
With the game on the line, literally and figuratively. it was Paxton Korslin and the Vikings (20-5) who would top the Jets (21-5) 52-47.
Valders’ Paxton Korslin puts up a shot against Roncalli’s Andrew Ahola during the WIAA Division 3 boys basketball sectional semifinal playoff game at Lincoln High School in Manitowoc. Sue Pischke/HTR Media. Photo taken on Thursday, March 12, 2015.
Next up for Valders will be fellow No. 1 seed Xavier (22-3).
“The game was really hyped up,” Korslin said of the pre-game atmosphere which had the JFK rocking from the start. “We wanted to come out strong and beat them like they did to us last year.”
Valders coach Trevor Schwoerer agreed the atmosphere was electric.
“Heck of an atmosphere at Lincoln,” Schwoerer said. “Two great teams from the area. A lot of people came out to watch. A great high school basketball game.”
For a little bit it seemed Roncalli, led by Andrew Ahola’s team-high 20 points, would prevail.
The Jets, who trailed 29-22 at halftime, stormed back in the third quarter.
Korslin picked up his third foul with 3:18 left in the third quarter and while he was out Roncalli capitalized to claw back in the game. Cory Bahrs drained a 3-pointer in the waning moments of the stanza to give the Jets a narrow 41-40 lead entering the final frame.
“We made a valiant effort in the second half to dig back into it and find a little momentum and get a lead,” Roncalli coach Joe Rux said. “We just had a hard time getting a shot in the last segment there.”
Rux’s squad did get a big shot from Ahola right when his team needed him the most.
Ahola nailed a 3-pointer, one of six he would make in the contest, to tie the game at 44-44 with 3:57 remaining.
Korslin, with ice in his veins after picking up his fourth foul 12 seconds later, took control of the Vikings offense the rest of the way.
With just under two minutes remaining, he drove inside the lane and drew the foul to go to the line. He would convert both free throw attempts to put Valders up for good 46-44.
“I just played through it,” Korslin said. It probably helped he didn’t realize he was sitting on four fouls, assuming it was only his third when he stayed in the game. “We felt more in control because we weren’t turning the ball over.”
Schwoerer knew his standout was sitting on four fouls but had faith in him to shine when it mattered most.
“He’s obviously one of the players we rely on,” Schwoerer said. “When he’s out of the game our offense stalls a little bit. He got inside the paint and never picked up his fifth foul which was huge. He made some big plays down the stretch.”
Korslin finished with a game-high 24 points while teammate Thomas Schwoerer added 15.
Ahola later gave the Jets one last gasp of life, hitting another 3 with 12.5 seconds remaining. Schwoerer iced the game at the line seconds later, converting 4-of-6 in the quarter.
The difference in the contest proved to be at the stripe as Valders was 15-of-19 in the game while Roncalli was 2-for-2.
Valders was already putting the thrilling contest behind them knowing they face a potent Xavier squad in two days time.
“We just have to get ready and start practicing hard tomorrow,” Korslin said.
Schwoerer knows a battle is brewing.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Trevor Schwoerer said. “It’s going to be just like this. They have a lot of guys who can score the basketball. It’s going to be a very tough game on Saturday.”
While Valders moves on, the loss ends Roncalli’s season and the tenure Rux as Jets coach. Rux announced in the summer this would be his final campaign at the helm.
He was more focused on his players though than his own feelings.
“It’s no different than any other game,” Rux said. “Obviously you end the season and feel for the seniors who are part of the team. That’s far more important than what’s going on with me right now.”
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RONCALLI — Scheer 5, C. Bahrs 3, Ahola 20, B. Bahrs 7, Theisen 12. 3-pt: Scheer, C. Bahrs, Ahola 6, B. Bahrs, Theisen 2; FT: 2-2; F: 16
VALDERS — Korslin 24, Schueler 2, Persinger 2, Schwoerer 15, Tren. Sundsmo 6, Madson 2. 3-pt: Schwoerer; FT: 15-19; F: 6
Roncalli…13 9 19 6 — 47
Valders…13 16 11 12 — 52