EagleHerald/Jody Korch
Oconto Blue Devils celebrate their regional title game win over St. Mary Catholic on Saturday night in Oconto.
EagleHerald/Jody Korch
Oconto Blue Devils celebrate their regional title game win over St. Mary Catholic on Saturday night in Oconto.

OCONTO — A comfortable lead had just slipped away but there was no panic in the Oconto boys’ basketball team, just resolve to get the job done.

So the Blue Devils regrouped and finished strong to beat St. Mary Catholic 56-51 on Saturday night. It was Oconto’s first boys’ basketball regional title in five years.

“It means the world to me,” Oconto senior Carson Moe said. “It’s my senior year. There’s no other time I could do this.”

Playing uptempo basketball was to Oconto’s advantage against a Zephyr team that went six deep and got in first-half foul trouble. But the Zephyrs kept the game within reach, controlled the tempo with a bob-and-weave offense and contained the Blue Devils with a 2-3 zone and a 6-foot-3 shot-blocking extraordinaire in Christian Jack.

When Jake Krueger opened the second half with a 3-pointer and Moe followed with a bucket, the Blue Devils’ lead was up to 34-23 and they were on the verge of pulling away.

St. Mary regrouped with a time out and answered with a 13-0 run.

Oconto coach Jon Bostedt had expected a game of spurts.

“And this wasn’t going to be easy and we just had to ride out the storm,” Bostedt said. “We weren’t making two, three or four passes to try and break the defense down, and that’s what got us in trouble.”

Moe ended the 13-0 run with a three, but baskets by Kennan DeShambo and Caden Uhlenbrauck gave the Zephyrs a 40-37 lead with 10 minutes left.

“What I liked was I looked out there and I didn’t see panic on their faces,” Bostedt said. “And I saw Moe and (Connor) Ebben huddle everybody up under the hoop.”

Moe ended another Blue Devil scoring drought by driving hard to the hoop for a bucket. He split a pair of free throws and Isaac Woller turned the possession into a four-point play with a 3-pointer for a 43-40 lead with 6:16 remaining.

“I think what changed was the same thing that happened in the first half,” St. Mary coach Dave Michalkiewicz said. “We gave them too many second shots, and that ultimately came back to haunt us. You’ve got to give Oconto credit — they’re a good team, they’re big and strong.”

Oconto never trailed again after the four-point possession.

“We decided we had to inside,” Moe said. “We were chucking up too many threes.”

Zach Sherman scored on a putback and Parker James made a steal. Moe muscled in between defenders for a bucket and a 50-45 lead with 2:54 remaining. Uhlenbrauck’s three and a Jack free throw cut the lead to one, but Woller drained a clutch three from the corner with 1:33 remaining. Ebben sank two free throws with 32.2 seconds left and Evan Allen made a steal with 21.4 seconds on the clock. Eben split two more free throws.

Bostedt credited his super subs — James and Allen — for their contributions.

“I feel very lucky to have both of those boys on our team,” he said.

DeShambo — the Zephyrs’ leading scorer — was hampered by foul trouble, fouled out with a minute left and was limited to 10 points.

“When you take him out of the game it really limits what we do out on the court,” Michalkiewicz said. “But no excuses. It was a good high school game.”

St. Mary ended the season 15-10. Oconto (19-5) will play Shiocton on Thursday night at Bay Port High School in a Division 4 sectional semifinal.

“Very proud of the kids for weathering the storm,” Bostedt said. “They’re very deserving.”

ST. MARY CATHOLIC (51) — Griffith 10, DeShambo 10, Miller 2, Dejno 2, Jack 6, Uhlenbrauck 21. FGs: 20-40; FTs: 9-13

OCONTO (56) — James 5, Allan 0, Moe 14, Sherman 5, Krueger 6, Woller 14, Ebben 12. FGs: 20-62; FTs: 8-18

Halftime score: Oconto 29, St. Mary 23