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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Division 3 WIAA Playoffs

One day after celebrating a close victory at home, the Peshtigo Bulldogs found themselves on the other side of the celebration.  Earning the right to play another game, Peshtigo, a three-seed, traveled to take on the Little Chute Mustangs, a two-seed, Saturday night. It was the Mustangs' ability to shoot from behind the arc that kept them rolling, firing in 11 of 20 shots from three-point land.

It took Peshtigo over six and a half minutes of game time to score their first field goal, when Ryley Demmith secured a rebound and putback, but Peshtigo was already behind 14-4.  After a Little Chute triple, Joey Bradley drove the floor, took the contact, and completed an and-one.  Demmith proved to be the sparkplug that drove the Bulldogs' engine throughout the first half.  His jumper brought the lead to single digits at 17-9 with 11:45 remaining in the half, and forced a Mustang timeout.  Out of the timeout, Little Chute connected on another three-pointer, which pushed their lead to 20-9.

"I think their size kind of hurt us inside.  I think that made a difference, not that our guys were afraid or timid to go in, but it changed some of our shots and I think that really caught us off guard.  Our first couple minutes weren't what we wanted, we got in the hole ten points and I think that almost cost us the game," said Peshtigo Coach Nate Motkowski of the early deficit.

Demmith hit both free throws, before getting a steal and a layup to bring the score back to 20-13 with 9:25 to play.  Little Chute's Noah Mueller had his deep ball dialed in all night as he drained a triple giving the Mustangs a 10-point advantage again.  After an LC free throw, Demmith splashed a three from the top of the key.  Mr. Do It All Demmith then got another steal, this time dishing to Bradley for the layup and the lead was cut to 24-18. 

"For a while there, Ryley was our only guy doing anything on offense.  He kind of, as he has in other games, kept us alive just through hard work and determination and just willed his way in for some points. He can't hang his head on the way he went out, he had a heck of a last game as a senior," Coach Motkowski said of Demmith's play.

Little Chute kept finding their way to easy baskets.  Keenan Stevens posted up and drilled the hook shot.  On their next possession, Stevens was fouled, made one of two free throws, but on the second shot the Mustangs secured the board.  That turned into a floater for Cory Diedrick, which extended the lead to 33-22 in favor of Little Chute.  Max Neumann answered back with a mid-range jumper for Peshtigo, and Demmith made two more free throws at the 1:27 mark, cutting the lead to 33-26.  Thanks, in part, to being eight of eight from the charity stripe, Demmith had 17 of Peshtigo's 26 points.  The Bulldogs found themselves behind at halftime, 34-26.

It was more of the same in the second half, every time Peshtigo made a run, the Mustangs were able to connect from three.  The Bulldogs got the lead down to 43-35 with a bit of momentum, but were quickly silenced on Noah Knudsen's triple. Bradley split his trip to the free throw line connecting on one of two, and Mueller answered back with another Mustang three.  Justin Thill got inside for a hoop and Neumann made one of two free throws, but Little Chute's Mueller found his range.  Mueller sank back-to-back triples giving them a 55-39 lead.  Peshtigo's Matt Larsen drilled a nice mid-range shot off the glass, but Knudsen's three from about five feet behind the arc forced a Peshtigo timeout. 

Demmith secured a rebound and put-back out of the timeout, trimming the lead to 58-43.  Mustang Devin Plate made good of a three-point play with his free throw, giving LC their biggest lead of the game at 61-43 with 3:24 to play. 

When asked about Little Chute's three-point shooting, Coach Motkowski said, "They shot 55% from behind the three-point line, I mean pro and college teams don't shoot that.  So, we anticipated them getting threes up and hitting some threes, but I don't think you can ever game plan for a team to shoot 55% from the three-point line.  They shot the same from behind the arc as they did from normal field goal range, so that's tough to plan for.  We have to tip our hat to them."

Peshtigo went on a run at the end of the game to make things interesting.  Three offensive rebounds led to a Thill layup.  Demmith then sank two free throws, before working the offensive glass for two boards, a put-back, and a foul shot, making it 62-50.  A Neumann triple with 53 seconds left all of a sudden brought the score to 62-53 which forced Little Chute to call a timeout.  This was as close as the Bulldogs could come, however, as Plate connected on five of eight free throws in the final minute to seal the Mustang victory, 67-58.

Ryley Demmith led all scorers with 28 points, Matt Larson followed up with 10 points, Joey Bradley finished with eight and Max Neumann also added eight points.  This was the final game for seniors Ryley Demmith, Matt Larson, Joey Bradley, Justin Thill, Cole Tackmier, Tyler LeMahieu and Waleed El-Jack.

Of those seniors, Coach Motkowski said, "We talked about the game very briefly right after, but we said there's nothing to hang your head about, that team came out and won the game.  We didn't lose the game, they took it.  After that, we kind of moved on and talked about the year, we won 21 games, we won conference. I think anybody would be happy to say we won 21 games, won conference, have a shot at a regional title.  The season overall, I hope everyone is happy with.  We backed up to three years ago, when a lot of these guys were on varsity and everyone painted a pretty dark picture for us.  Since then, we've won over 60 games, two conference titles, and two regional titles, anyone in the state would be happy to say that."

Little Chute was led by Noah Mueller with 24 points, Devin Plate added 20 points, and Noah Knudsen pitched in 12 points.

Motkowski also went on to thank the fans for their unconditional support, especially on the road in Little Chute, "I think we had more fans there than Little Chute even at their home gym.  After the game, even though they were the ones taking pictures with the trophy, our fans filled the court more than they did.  I couldn't be more thankful for our fans and the atmosphere they created."



Bulldogs Bounce Blue

Devils from Playoffs

A near max-capacity gym was filled with parents, students, people from other cities and even an NHL alumn to watch as the Peshtigo Bulldogs hosted the Oconto Blue Devils Friday night.  The electrifying atmosphere was something that needed to be experienced in person.  Even the student sections battled back-and-forth during the game.  Two teams, separated by just 15 miles, plus two die-hard fan bases, ended up in one captivating contest.

In not-so-typical Peshtigo fashion, they came out firing from behind the three-point line.  Ryley Demmith started the game with a triple and teammate Joey Bradley followed up with a three of his own, giving Peshtigo the early 6-0 lead.  Oconto's Connor Ebben worked his way inside to get the Blue Devils on the board.  Demmith answered right back with a short jumper.  Jake Krueger found himself open for a shot behind the arc for Oconto, cutting the lead to 8-5.  Demmith and Justin Thill each went two for two at the charity stripe, extending the lead again.  Blue Devil Carson Moe scored on a layup, but Peshtigo's Matt Larsen drilled a three-pointer moments later.  Demmith and Thill again matched each other, this time on layups, before Demmith made good of his trip to the free throw line.  Peshtigo found themselves with their biggest lead of the game at 21-12.

"I was happy with our energy and our attitude right away. I thought our guys were into it, I thought the crowd was into it, but I'm not going to lie, that's not what we drew up this week.  Our plan wasn't to come out and shoot threes, it was really to work it inside, but Oconto did a nice job of taking that away and our guys took what was open," said Peshtigo Coach Nate Motkowski of their hot start.

Ebben began to enforce his will on the Bulldog defenders down low to bring his team back.  Having already connected on a layup, Ebben hit two more baskets inside, a short jumper and another layup to go on his own ten-point run.  His final basket of the run trimmed the lead to 27-20, and sparked the Oconto offense.  Moe scored inside, Ebben then added a jumper before Zach Sherman's back-to-back baskets gave Oconto the 28-27 advantage.  The lead was extended to 30-27 went Moe made his way to the hoop for two-points.  The Blue Devil faithful were on their feet in excitement chanting, "We can't hear you" aimed at the Bulldog fans.  Peshtigo's Max Neumann sliced through the lane draining a jumper in the paint, but Oconto held the advantage at 30-29 at the halftime break.

"I thought everybody that jumped on the floor did a heck of a job.  At halftime, we just went back over what we wanted to do.  We wanted to take the ball out of Moe's hands, keep it out of the post, and offensively attack inside and I thought we did a better job in the second half," Coach Motkowski said of their second-half strategy.

It was the first half of each half that spelt doom for the Blue Devils, and spelt victory for the Bulldogs.  Neumann started the second half off where he left the first, and gave Peshtigo a 31-30 lead on his layup.  After Thill split his trip at the line, Oconto's Parker James also split a pair of free throw shots to bring the game to 32-31.  Over the next several minutes of game time, the Bulldogs brought the intensity.  Neumann connected on another layup, Bradley made two free throws, and followed up with three consecutive layups.  The 10-0 Peshtigo run pushed the lead to 42-31, when the student section responded with their own "We can't hear you" chant, in response to Oconto's earlier chant. 

When asked about the fast start in the first few minutes of each half, Coach Motkowski said, "The last two practices, we put three minutes on the clock, went 0 to 0, and we said we need a big start for the first half and big start to the second half.  We actually emulated that over and over, yesterday and the day before and I think it helped. Our plan worked in that sense."

Oconto may have been down, but they were certainly not out.  After the 10-0 Bulldog run, the Blue Devils responded with an 9-0 run of their bringing the score back to 45-43.  Moe made a layup, Isaac Woller hit a triple, Moe added two free throws and Woller finished the run by getting to the hoop for a basket. 

Demmith got Peshtigo out of their scoring rut by going two for two from the free throw line, pushing the lead to 47-43.  Oconto's Moe came back to split his opportunity at the charity stripe.  Thill extended the Bulldog lead on a layup, 49-44.  Moe answered back with a layup of his own, but Demmith again got inside for two more Peshtigo points.  Woller brought the lead to 51-49 with 1:30 seconds left, but free throw shooting sealed the game for the Bulldogs.  In the final minutes, Peshtigo went six of seven at the line, including three of four from Neumann, and went on to win the contest 57-52.

"We preached all week that big games come down to free throws and rebounds.  We've been talking about it all week, talked about it before and we talked about it at halftime, and I think it helped us get a win tonight," said Coach Motkowski.

Ryley Demmith led all scorers with 19 points while also coming down with 16 rebounds, Justin Thill finished the contest with 12, Joey Bradley pitched in 11, and Max Neumann added nine for Peshtigo.

Oconto's Connor Ebben led the team with 14 points, Carson Moe ended up with 13, and Isaac Woller finished the season with a 10-point game.

When asked about the quick turn-around to play Little Chute Saturday, Coach Motkowski said, "We told them to enjoy it for about a half hour, and then get ready, watch film, get some sleep, and we will do walk-throughs tomorrow, do shoot arounds, but we know they shoot a lot of threes.  So, we need to make sure we have all their guys covered and rebound well."


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