SHS boys crowned regional champs
Luck was not with the Wausau West Warriors on Saturday.
Just hours after the Superior High School boys hockey team defeated Wausau West to claim the Division 1 state title, the Warriors boys basketball team saw its season come to an end — again at the hands of Superior.
The Spartans defeated Wausau West 51-34 Saturday in Superior to claim the Division 1 regional title.
Superior led 20-19 at halftime but then outscored Wausau West 31-15 in the second half.
The Spartans now advance to the Division 1 sectional semifinals. They will face Marshfield at 7 p.m. Thursday at Eau Claire North.
“That was a huge win,” said senior Jake Libal. “Wausau West is a great team, and we knew coming into this game that it was going to be a battle throughout. We’re really happy about the win, and we’ve got our heads high going into the sectional tournament.”
For the Spartans, this is their first trip to the sectional tournament since 2013. In 2011, Superior won the sectional title, but they fell short of the state tournament after losing a Super Tuesday play-in game.
Super Tuesday games were eliminated after the 2011 season, so any team that wins a sectional title this year will be headed to Madison.
“We just want to give ourselves a chance to get to that state tournament,” said Jake Smith, SHS head coach. “We’re halfway there, and we’re taking it one game at a time.”
The Spartans’ first opponent will be Marshfield, the team that bumped them out of the playoffs last year.
The Tigers upset No. 2 seed Chippewa Falls in the regional semifinals and then knocked off No. 6-seeded Hudson 67-61 Saturday to advance to the sectional tournament.
“You really never know what’s going to happen, but we feel like we’re going to be prepared no matter what we see,” Smith said. “We’ll be ready.”
Superior has benefited from a deep bench all season, and that was the case again Saturday against Wausau West.
With the Warriors leading 21-20 a minute into the third quarter, Superior touched off a 16-4 run in which five different players scored.
Brandon Myer’s jumper on a pass from Brett Lozon began the streak, and Libal and Nick Mehlum added back-to-back 3-pointers to give Superior a 28-21 lead at 5:14.
Jacob Raeder hit a pair of free throws for Wausau West the next time down the floor, but Connor Gray answered for Superior when he posted up on the left block. Mehlum then pushed the Spartans’ lead to nine with a fade-away shot from the right baseline, and a long 2-pointer from Libal made it 34-23 with 2:56 left in the quarter.
Taylor Penn cut into Superior’s lead with a shot in the paint, but Lozon finished off the quarter with a pull-up jumper to give the Spartans a 36-25 lead.
“Our entire starting lineup has scored over 20 (points) in multiple games all year long, so we have a lot of weapons,” Smith said. “A lot of teams that we play, there’s usually one or two guys that we don’t have to worry so much about; but with our team you’ve got to worry about all five guys on the court. They’re all a threat, and I think that makes us really, really dangerous.”
Superior’s defensive pressure also seemed to wear on the Warriors in the second half. Wausau West made just two field goals in the third quarter and three in the fourth after starting off the game with five in the first quarter.
Smith said Superior was able to save its legs Friday against Eau Claire North by rotating in a large number of players, and the Spartans’ deep bench may have been a factor Saturday.
“I know they (Wausau West) were in a close one Friday night, and that Penn and (Jakob) Tordsen — those are two really nice players — I think they played a lot of minutes last night (Friday),” Smith said. “They were making their shots early on, but in the second half, I don’t know if their legs got tired, but we had a resurgence in that second half and that was nice to see.”
Libal, who finished with 10 points for Superior, said the Spartans pride themselves on playing tenacious defense. Superior benefits from a strong corps of reserves, he said, and most teams succumb to the pressure over the course of four quarters.
“We knew that pressure would get to them sooner or later,” Libal said. “They didn’t play a lot of people off the bench, and for us, we have a lot of bench players. That just came to our advantage tonight.”
Mehlum led Superior with 15 points, Myer added nine and Lozon had eight.
For the Warriors, Penn was the only player to reach double figures, finishing with 17 points.
Wausau West...................... 11 8 6 9 — 34
Superior............................. 9 11 16 15 — 51
Wausau West — Taylor Penn 17, Jakob Tordsen 6, Jacob Raeder 4, Kyle Nickel 3, Tommy Borta 2, Matt Borta 2.
3-point goals — Penn.
Superior — Nick Mehlum 15, Jake Libal 10, Brandon Myer 9, Brett Lozon 8, Connor Gray 4, Jeb Kimmes 2, Nate Sanders 1, Justin Reinkall 1, Devin Borstad 1.
3-point goals — Mehlum 3, Libal 2.