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MCDONALD'S CO-GAME OF THE WEEK (SRW Boys Basketball): #7 River Ridge 62, Belmont 43
Coach Tom Neises leads River Ridge boys to third straight Six Rivers West title
Tom Neises
River Ridge head coach Tom Neises has led his Timberwolves to a third-straight Six Rivers West title in just his third year at the held. Neises' club clinched the 2021–22 title with a 62–43 win over Belmont last Tuesday night.

SRW BOYS BASKETBALL: #7 River Ridge 62, Belmont 43

By A.J. Gates, Herald Independent

PATCH GROVE – Whatever his secret is, coach Tom Neises has made a believer out of not only basketball fans of the River Ridge Timberwolves, but of everyone who follows the Six Rivers West conference.

In his third season as head coach at River Ridge, Neises has led this year’s boys’ basketball team to the program’s third consecutive conference title, and in that time has lost just one conference game.

“We’ve turned it around with good kids I think, that’s number one,” Neises said. “I can relate to these kids, and I think they can relate to me,” Neises added. “I grew up here. I get it here, and I think that familiarity helped, as opposed to somebody who did not know the area and came from outside.”

As some may know, prior to coming to River Ridge in 2019, Neises was a 1975 graduate of West Grant High School, and had amassed a resume with 35 years of coaching experience at places like St. Mary’s Springs in Fond du Lac, Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay and Xavier in Appleton. Oh, and he’s already been enshrined into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“I certainly don’t want to come across as tooting my own horn, but I think the one thing, and it’s no reflection of me, it’s a reflection of my life experience, is my experience,” Neises said. “I won’t say I’ve seen it all, because you’ve never seen it all, but I think the experience that I’ve been fortunate to have, has really helped here. River Ridge probably does not get coaches with the experience that I have. And it doesn’t mean that I know everything, I don’t want to come across like that I hope, but I’ve spent 40 years around the game of basketball, and something should rub off on me. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t have all the secrets, but I do think having vast experience and some knowledge is very helpful.”

“Another reason for our success is my assistant coaches,” added Neises. “We get along so well and the kids are getting taught what they need to get taught.”

It’s nothing short of amazing what Neises and his assistants have accomplished in their three seasons at River Ridge, considering the shape the program was in when he arrived in Patch Grove during the summer of 2019.

Prior to his arrival, the River Ridge boys’ basketball program had a combined record of 58–80 in the previous six seasons, with one winning season during that time. The Timberwolves hadn’t won a conference title since the 2005–06 season, or a regional title since the 2006–07 season.

All Neises has done since arriving in Patch Grove is capture three consecutive conference titles with a three-year conference record of 34–1, heading into their final regular-season game Thursday night against Cassville.

“I think the lack of success made the kids want to listen, and I think that first team that really improved and got to the regional finals got people’s attention,” Neises said. “I don’t know if there’s any secret recipe. You practice hard, you push hard, you have good kids and you need some luck along the way."

As for that elusive regional title, coach Neises hopes this is the year, after losing back-to-back regional final appearances in 2020 to Darlington and 2021 to Fennimore.

“We have a chance to move a little bit here in the tournament, but it can all be done in one turnover, one missed shot or a missed free throw. Who knows?” he said.

The Timberwolves have earned the #2 seed in this year’s division 4 sectional bracket, and next Friday night will play the winner of Tuesday night’s regional quarterfinal between #7 seed Melrose-Mindoro (14–9) and #10 seed Lancaster (8–15).

Mineral Point (21–2) holds the #1 seed in the sectional bracket, while Onalaska Luther (20–2) has the #3 seed and Cuba City (21–2) the #4 seed.

This season the Timberwolves have been averaging nearly 63 points per game, while allowing an average of 29 points per contest to their opponents. They are shooting 44.6% from the field, including 31.5% from 3-point range, and are shooting 55.7% from the free throw line.

Coach Neises’ squad is also  out-rebounding their opponent by an average of 26–15 per game, while committing an average of just 9.7 turnovers per contest.

Junior guard Braden Crubel leads the team with a scoring average of 17.2 points per game, while senior David Nies chips in an average of 13.1 points and fellow senior Logan Drone 9.3. On the glass, Drone pulls down an average of 6.3 rebounds per contest with Nies close behind at 6.2.

The Timberwolves clinched this year’s conference title last Tuesday night with their 62-43 victory over visiting Belmont.

Against the Braves, coach Neises’ squad knocked down 23-of-60 (38%) shot attempts, including 4-of-12 (33%) from 3-point range. They were 12-of-27 (44%) from the free throw line, committed 10 turnovers and came away with 10 steals.

Braden Crubel led the charge with a team-high 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the floor and 2-of-2 from the free throw line. Crubel also led the team in steals with four to go along with five rebounds.

David Nies was close behind with 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the floor and 2-of-5 from the line, while also pulling down a team-high seven rebounds. Will Cooley chipped in nine points, while Matthew Nies finished with eight and Logan Drone seven.

Last Friday night, the Timberwolves traveled to Benton, where they handed the host Zephyrs a 75–58 loss after holding a halftime lead of 41–28.

David Nies poured in a team-high 24 points on 12-of-21 shooting from the floor, while also pulling down 11 rebounds for a double-double. Ian Adrian netted 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor, including 4-of-6 from downtown, while Braden Crubel finished with 11 points and Luke Patterson nine.

On the night, River Ridge made 29-of-60 (48%) shot attempts, including 7-of-20 (35%) from long range. They were 11-of-14 (78.5%) from the free throw line, committed just nine turnovers and came away with 13 steals.

River Ridge 62, Belmont 43
(from Tuesday, Feb. 15, at Patch Grove)
Belmont 16 27 - 43
River Ridge 39 23 - 62
Belmont - Ty Palzkill 10, Carter Kettler 4, Tyler Simmons 5, Waylon Palzkill 18, Logan Hardyman 4, Ludlum 2. Totals - 14 13-17 43.
River Ridge - Logan Drone 7, Braden Crubel 13, Ian Adrian 5, Aidan Gage 3, Will Cooley 9, Matthew Nies 8, Luke Patterson 5, David Nies 12. Totals - 23-60 12-27 62.
3-point goals - B: Simmons 1, W. Palzkill 1; RR: (4-12) Crubel 1, Gage 1, Cooley 1, Patterson 1. Team fouls - B 20, RR 14. Fouled out - None.

River Ridge 75, Benton 58
(from Friday, Feb. 18, at Benton)
River Ridge 41 34 - 75
Benton 28 30 - 58
River Ridge - Logan Drone 5, Braden Crubel 11, Ian Adrian 16, Will Cooley 7, Matthew Nies 4, Luke Patterson 9, David Nies 24. Totals - 29-60 11-14 76.
Benton - Chad Haffele 8, Lucas Jansen 5, Nate Lawrence 9, Roberto Salpietra 2, Nathan Keleher 7, Payton Calvert 2, Cody Haynes 2, Rex Plaine 23. Totals - 24 5-6 58
3-point goals - RR: (7-20) Crubel 1, Adrian 4, Cooley 1, Patterson 1; B: Haffele 2, R. Blaine 3. Team fouls - RR 11, B 10. Fouled out - None.