EagleHerald/Matt Lehmann Wausaukee's Hayden Renikow rises above two Gibraltar defenders to fire off a jump shot during Saturday's WIAA division five championship game in Wausaukee.
EagleHerald/Matt Lehmann Wausaukee's Hayden Renikow rises above two Gibraltar defenders to fire off a jump shot during Saturday's WIAA division five championship game in Wausaukee.

1
2

WAUSAUKEE — A big first half propelled the Wausaukee boys basketball team to the WIAA Division 5 regional championship with a 79-70 triumph over the No. 4 seeded Gibraltar Vikings on Saturday.

The No. 1 seeded Rangers took the lead with the game’s first points and never trailed for the ensuing 36 minutes, with Tristan Pollard and Hayden Renikow combining for 21 points in the first half to help Wausaukee build a 10-point lead at halftime. Gibraltar was able to cut the Ranger’s lead to seven three time in the second half, but clutch free throws from Renikow with one minute and eight seconds left to play proved to the difference, with Wausaukee withstanding a late offense charge from the Vikings to advance to the WIAA sectional round.

*That was the longest game that I’ve ever coached. I’m not sure if it actually was, time-wise but it felt like the longest game I’ve ever coached,” Wausaukee head coach Jon Betts said. “As soon as we had a 17-point lead, we knew it was going to be a long time to hold on it. We knew that Gibraltar was going to make runs, but we weathered a few storms. Whenever they made a big run on us, we answered back with one of our own and I think that was the difference tonight.”

A 3-point bomb from Brandon Shigouri kicked off the game for the Rangers, who used another Shigouri triple along with baskets from Henikow and Pollard to open the first half with a quick 16-to-2 run and put the Vikings on their heels early.

After a triple from Marcus Reinhardt cut Wausaukee’s lead to 15, Devin Brunette knocked down a mid-range jump shot while Pollard dropped in a 3-pointer from the right-hand corner gave the Rangers a 23-9 advantage. Putbacks from Ethan Strumbris and Brenden Versaskas were countered with a fastbreak pull-up jumper and a triple from Dominic Krauel helped Gibraltar chip away at Wausaukee’s lead.

Krauel and Sam Lindenberg each canned another 3-pointer as Gibraltar clawed within seven points. Pollard drilled a trey of his own to push Wausaukee’s lead back up to 10, but a tip-in and a pair of free throws from Krauel made it a 34-28 game. A flurry of free throws by Pollard, Renikow, Brunette and Corey Boesen  put the Rangers ahead by 12 with just 23.5 seconds remaining in the half, but Spencer Krauss knocked down a jumper as time expired to make it a 46-36 affair at halftime.

Wausaukee was sent to the foul line 41 times but could only knock down 22 of them. The Rangers defense did the dirty work by hustling for rebounds and not allowing many second-chance points for the Vikings, both things Betts said were keys to his team’s victory.

“You’ve got to make free throws,” he said. “We were able to get to the line quite a bit tonight. It was a physical game where everyone was going at it. Things were tight a few times and that’s when you’ve got to able to hit free throws. We did a great job of not giving Gibraltar second or third shots. Guys stepped up, got some rebounds and made some big plays for us.”

Luke Steebs kicked off the second half with a layup for Gibraltar but the Rangers countered with a third-chance putback from Renikow and a basket by Versaskas. A jumper from Connor Duffy and a triple by Lindenberg cut Wausaukee’s lead to seven until Pollard drilled a step-back 3-pointer before adding a spinning layup through traffic that made it an 11-point game.

Pollard scored six consecutive points but Steebs darted in front of a Rangers’ inbound pass and went the length of the court for a transition layup. The two teams traded scores until back-to-back triples by Krauss forced a Wausaukee timeout with 4:07 left to play.

The Rangers came out of the break with a 7-0 run that caused Gibraltar to call a timeout to regroup. Krauel sank a layup but needing to intentionally foul to get the ball back, the Vikings sent Pollard to the line with just over a minute remaining and watched him convert both free throws to give the Rangers a 14 lead. A late 3-pointer from Victor Jauregui brought the score to 79-70 with just 6.8 seconds left, but Wausaukee was able to dribble out the final seconds to earn the district title.

Saturday was the final home game for Pollard, Brunette, Shigouri, Renikow, Stumbris and fellow seniors Andrew Schroeder, who is out with an injury, and Cooper Rollo. All seven players were a part of last year’s Rangers squad that fell to Green Bay NEW Lutheran in the regional round and Betts said that their example helped set the tone for what Wausaukee wanted to accomplish this season.

“Those guys put in a lot of work,” he said. “They preach to the young players that the result tonight was from all the time spent in the summer and in the backyard. They want to win and they work their butts off. This is quite a senior class, it really is. I wish they were only only sophomores.

Renikow led the Rangers with 23 points while Pollard dropped 19 and Shigouri poured in 13. Krauel was Gibraltar’s top scorer with 16 points while Steebs and Krauss each chipped in 14.

Wausaukee will now face No. 2 Wabeno/Laona, who took down No. 3 Florence 69-50 on Saturday. The Rangers defeated the Rebels 66-61 earlier in the season on their home court, so familiarity will not be an issue for either team.

“We’ve played them once before and at this level, every team you play is good,” Betts said. “It’s going to come down to execution from this point on. Who puts the ball in hole? Who plays good defense? Who stays out of foul trouble? I feel like the game is out of my hands in terms of X’s and O’s. It’s more about who’s going to be able to go out there and get things done. There’s not a lot of weakness out there anymore.”

Thursday’s contest will be held in Elcho,and tips off at 7 p.m.

GIBRALTAR (70) — Krauel 16, Krauss 14, Steebs 14, Lindenberg 8, Duffy 6, V. Jauregui 4, A. Jauregui 3, Reinhardt 3, Hartman 2; FTs: 11-19

WAUSAUKEE (79) — Renikow 23, Pollard 19, Shigouri 13, Versaskas 10, De. Brunette 6, Boesen 5, Stumbris 2, Do. Brunette 1; FTs: 22-41

Halftime score: Wausaukee 46, Gibraltar 36.