Gresham Steals a Sectional Semi Win From Lena
High school basketball fans from all over the area gathered together in the Green Bay Preble fieldhouse Thursday night. Area schools including nearly every M&O team, Marinette, Oconto, Shawano and more were represented and part of the standing-room only crowd to watch as Lena and Gresham took part in a battle of Wildcats.
For many fans, it likely felt as though Lena renovated their gymnasium as a sea of Wildcat faithful filled the stands, creating a home-like atmosphere. With 35-plus minutes in the books, the boys in blue and white gave the fans a show and held an 11-point lead.
With 46.1 seconds remaining in the contest, senior guard Connor Heise calmly connected on two free throws to give Lena their 11-point margin. While everyone seemed to be ready to head to the sectional finals, the Gresham Wildcats had other plans.
Through the game's first five minutes of play, neither team was able to find the correct range. Plenty of three-point attempts from Gresham were answered back with contested drives to the hoop from Lena, but neither team could make a basket.
"Little nerves, by far the biggest crowd, I think, either team has played in front of. Definitely a depth perception issue when you're shooting, it changes that, but a little bit of nerves from the crowd and you could tell it took both teams a little while to settle in," said Lena Head Coach Jeff Heimke of the long scoring drought for both teams.
Gresham's Drew Haffner mercifully gave the crowd something to cheer about at the 13:04 mark when his layup broke the 0-0 deadlock, giving his team the first lead of the contest. It wasn't long after that, Lena's Connor Heise hit back-to-back inside baskets, put his team in a familiar position, ahead 4-2. Neal Cerveny came back with a layup to tie the game again for Gresham at the 11:22 mark. Austin Lange, fresh off the Lena bench, wasted no time entering the scoring column with a triple. Cerveny's layup trimmed the score to 7-6, but Lena began to get hot from the field. Heise drilled a short jumper, Lange wrestled away a rebound and got a basket, and the sharpshooting Dalton Anderson found his range with a three-pointer. The 7-0 scoring run gave Lena a 14-6 advantage.
Gresham did everything they could to keep the game close. Haffner hit a corner three which was followed up by a Legacy Skenadore layup, quickly bringing the game back to 14-11. Lena's Anderson started a three-point contest between the teams. After Anderson, Haffner buried a triple, then Lena's Hunter Borchert joined the action with a triple, all before Ray Creapeau of Gresham hit his own shot from three-point land. The barrage of threes brought the score to 20-17, in favor of Lena, with 4:59 left in the half.
Borchert's triple seemed to get him rolling. He made his way to the basket for a layup on their next possession. Cerveny answered back with a layup of his own, but Borchert was feeling it, as he connected on another behind-the-arc-basket, giving him eight straight Lena points. Not to be out-done by his older brother, Colby Borchert fired up a three, drawing a foul and earning three shots at the charity stripe. Colby Borchert's three consecutive free throws pushed the lead to 28-19 with 2:55 remaining until halftime.
The defense by both teams seemed to feed off of the crowd's energy as both teams held their opponent to just one basket in the final three minutes of the half. Cerveny powered his way inside, snagged a rebound, and scored a put-back. Heise, nearly a minute later, drove past two defenders, and made his layup that brought the halftime score to 30-21, in favor of Lena.
After holding Gresham's leading scorer, Neal Cerveny, to just eight halftime points, Coach Heimke said, "I thought we defended really well for the offensive team that Gresham is. I thought Riley (Marquardt) defended Neal (Cerveny) extremely well for the great majority of the game. We thought Riley was our best player to guard him [Cerveny] as far as man to man, he gave up some size but he battled, even when he went in the post, he played him tough. Riley has been that way all year."
With 18 minutes of play in the books, both teams took the court for what would be one of the most memorable high school games seen by fans in the area. Throughout the second half, Lena was able to weather nearly every Gresham run thrown at them. Lena would go up by ten or twelve, and Gresham would cut it back to four, and the cycle continued.
Derek Bowman's layup got Gresham on the board first after halftime. Lena's Riley Marquardt was the beneficiary of a steal as he received the pass under the basket and finished the play. Hunter Borchert added a layup of his own for Lena just a minute and a half later, extending their lead to 34-23. Cerveny picked up where he left off, driving inside, drawing contact, and completing an old-fashioned three-point-play. His teammate Todd Otradovec followed up with a runner in the lane, cutting the lead to 34-28.
Heise started his big second half with a layup at the 14:10 mark and a triple from Anderson got the crowd on its feet for the 39-28 Lena lead. Again, it was Cerveny to answer for Gresham as he went two-for-two at the free throw line. Hunter Borchert pushed the lead back to eleven on a layup with 12:19 on the clock.
No matter how big the lead swelled, Gresham always had a rebuttal for Lena. This time, it came in the form of a 6-0 scoring run. Bowman started it off with a layup, Haffner tipped home a teammate's missed layup, and Otradovec got inside for a basket, bringing the score back down to 41-36.
"I thought we answered their runs pretty well. When they went on a run, we talked to our kids and told them we need a long possession, make sure we get a good look and for the better part of that game I thought we did that pretty well. I thought this was honestly the best game of basketball our kids have played in their whole careers, for 35 minutes," said Coach Heimke.
Hunter Borchert gave Lena a spark as he cashed in on a steal with a layup to end the run. A triple off the hand of Cerveny cut it to a four-point game, 43-39. Heise's leadership then began to shine. Just five seconds after Cerveny's three, Heise drove to the hoop, made the layup and got fouled. He made the free throw and completed the three-point-play to begin a Lena run. Hunter Borchert split a trip to the line and Anderson finished a layup that extended the lead to 49-39 once again.
Gresham's Creapeau drained a three-point attempt to end their drought, but it was the Borchert brothers that struck again. Colby snuck in the lane for two before Hunter was fouled and sank both free throws. Lena grabbed a 53-42 lead with 7:12 on the clock. Fans in blue nearly blew the roof off the building with their energy. But Gresham just did not go away.
Who else, but Cerveny hauled in a rebound and got the put-back. Otradovec stole the loose ball and scored the easy layup for a 53-46 contest. Heise made one of two attempts at the free throw line for the 54th Lena point. Otradovec answered with a two-for-two showing at the charity stripe on the other end and a Cerveny layup again brought the lead down to four. With 5:01 on the clock, Lena led 54-50.
Heise knew his team needed a basket and he delivered, again dribbling through defenders, drawing contact on the way to the hoop, and completing another three-point-play. Hunter Borchert also got inside on Lena's next possession for a basket, extending the lead again to 59-50.
The combination of Otradovec and Cerveny was lethal for Gresham. Otradovec scored inside before Cerveny did the same, drawing contact and making a free throw. Lena's lead was trimmed to 59-55 with just 2:50 to play.
It quickly became a game of free throws for Lena. Hunter Borchert sank two with 1:52 remaining. On the other end, Cerveny was fouled on a three-point attempt, earning three shots at the line, which he sank two for a 61-57 score. Lena's Riley Marquardt split his trip to the line, Heise went two-of-two before Anderson's layup with 58.1 seconds left put the game at 66-57 in favor of Lena.
After a missed shot by Gresham, Heise secured the board and was fouled immediately with 46.1 seconds on the clock. Cool, calm and collected, Heise drilled both, giving them an 11-point lead, 68-57. An 11-point lead, less than a minute left, what could go wrong?
Cerveny drove inside, drew two defenders and kicked it out to Creapeau who buried the triple with 35.9 seconds left and a 68-60 score. On the inbounds pass, Lena turned the ball over and Cerveny made them pay with a layup, 68-62 with 28.6 left. Once more, Lena tossed the ball out of bounds and Gresham took over. Gresham got the ball in the hands of Cerveny and he went to work. Cerveny shot the three-pointer, swished it, got fouled, and sank the free throw for a four-point-play. Just 16.4 seconds remained and Gresham cut the lead to 68-66. Lena mercifully was able to inbound the ball and were fouled with 13.8 remaining. At the line, both free throws were missed, and none other than Cerveny secured the rebound. Cerveny drove the length of the court, scored on a layup and tied the game 68 all with 5.6 seconds left. Hunter Borchert's last second heave was just off, and somehow Gresham had sent the game into overtime.
"With the ball in his hands, a lot of times good things are going to happen. He's surrounded by a great team that he can trust," said Gresham Coach Jeff Zobeck of his senior guard Neal Cerveny.
In the extra minutes, Heise gave Lena a 70-68 lead, only to be quickly snagged away off a three from Haffner that gave Gresham their first lead since 12:38 of the first half. Heise again worked his way to the hoop for a basket, that regained Lena the lead, 72-71. From there, it seemed to be all Gresham. Otradovec took the lead back for Gresham with a layup, and extended the lead with another layup with 1:35 remaining. Gresham's Creapeau drew a foul with 39.9 seconds left, where he made one of two free throws for a 76-72 lead. Hunter Borchert cut the lead in half with a layup, 76-74, which triggered a Gresham timeout.
Out of the timeout, Otradovec was fouled and he made one of his two attempts, for a 77-74 lead with 31.1 seconds left. Creapeau went to the free throw line with 15.7 seconds remaining for Gresham, sank both free throws, bringing the game to its final score of 79-74 in favor of Gresham.
"I'm kind of speechless. I kept reminding our guys every time we were in the huddle and even at halftime when we were down, this game isn't over. We hadn't shot the ball well, we didn't shoot the ball well in the second half either until the very end when we made some big shots. Once we got into overtime, we're very comfortable pulling the ball out and making them chase us," said Coach Zobeck of their improbable win.
On the other side of the comeback, Coach Heimke said of the final 46 seconds, "Turnovers and missed free throws. They kill you in close games. We've won some close games this year at the end, where other teams have not executed well, other teams have missed free throws, and it came back and got us. We've been pretty good this year on finishing out games, our guards are pretty good free throw shooters and our seniors typically make good decisions, but we definitely did not execute well in that last minute."
The heartbreaking loss was the final game for eight Lena seniors: Riley Marquardt, Dalton Anderson, Jacob Staidl, Hunter Borchert, Connor Heise, Christian Portier, Jacob Anderly, and Austin Lange.
Connor Heise paced Lena with 25 points, Hunter Borchert was close behind with 23, Dalton Anderson finished with 13, Colby Borchert and Austin Lange each added five, and Riley Marquardt chipped in three.
Neal Cerveny led all scorers with 33 points including 25 in the second half, Todd Otradovec pitched in with 15, Drew Haffner added 13, and Ray Creapeau finished with 12.
When asked about the post-game conversations, Lena senior Hunter Borchert said, "I just told everyone to hold their head high. You look at the fact that we came in as freshmen and won one game that year. Now, we made it to a sectional semi-final, that's something to be proud about." Borchert added about the overwhelming support from Lena fans, "It means everything, I mean, the whole community rallies behind the team like this, it's a great feeling and it's something I will remember for the rest of my life."
Coach Heimke had this to say about his senior group, "The only thing I told them once we got into the locker room was that I will never forget the heart and effort that this group of seniors played with. They were a one-win team as freshmen, and a lot of them played as freshmen, to twenty wins this year, but whether it was a one-win or twenty-win year, they played with heart and played with effort every night. That's what I'll remember about this group of kids the most." Heimke also added, "It was a good year, we told our kids that in the locker room. One loss isn't going to change what you've done the whole season. It's going to take a long time for those kids to get over this, the way we lost, but it definitely does not erase anything they've done. They've left a pretty good legacy and made a pretty good impact on the community."
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