MADISON – The battle for the Division 5 state boys’ basketball title became a battle for bragging rights in the Six Rivers Conference.
The East champion Barneveld Golden Eagles claimed both the gold ball and the Six Rivers supremacy by cooling off the red-hot Six Rivers West champion Shullsburg Miners, 58-28, in the WIAA Division 5 state championship boys’ basketball game at the Kohl Center in Madison on Saturday, March 18.
The #3-ranked Golden Eagles (26-3 overall) used an early 11-0 scoring run to pull ahead of the #7-ranked Miners (26-3), and then went on to outscore the Miners 37-13 in the second half to roll to a 30-point victory and capture their school’s first-ever boys’ state title.
“In the second half, it just got away from us. Give credit to Barneveld. They are a good team, obviously,” said Shullsburg head coach Mark Lierman after guiding the Miners to their first state appearance since 1991. “We got the silver ball and it’s only slightly a step down from gold. We wanted it as much as they did, but they executed better than we did.”
Barneveld won the regular season meeting with the Miners, 57-36, back on Feb. 3, to help lead the East over the West, 6-1, in the annual Six Rivers Challenge. Saturday’s meeting had a little more meaning for both teams; but, unfortunately for the Miners, the final outcome was the same.
“I’m really proud of the state of basketball in southwest Wisconsin. These kids have been battling since fifth grade. They know each other and maybe that makes it hurt a little bit more,” Lierman commented.
The Eagles were also playing with heavy hearts after sophomore forward Malcolm Reed’s mother, Jennifer Lease, passed away from a brain aneurysm after collapsing in line outside Watertown High School prior to Barneveld’s sectional final game against Hilbert the previous Saturday.
With emotions running high, the Eagles– along with the entire Barneveld community and several other communities and schools from around the state including Shullsburg– rallied around Reed and his devastated family.
“It’s the team but it’s also the town,” said Barneveld head coach Jim Myers, who coached Malcolm’s mother in the first title run for the Barneveld girls’ basketball team in the 1995. “The town rallied around us when the tragedy happened, and we were there for Malcolm and in a way, he was there for us.”
Lierman, who coached Lease along with Myers during the 1996 WBCA All-Star Game in 1996, noted the Shullsburg basketball program and the Shullsburg Athletic Boosters each donated to the Reed family fund last week.
“Everybody wants the same thing, but I think that helped them to rally around (Reed),” explained Lierman. “It goes beyond basketball. I didn’t know her real well, but I had that opportunity (to coach her). For a young man to lose his mother, I’m a momma’s boy, that would tear my heart out. I think they played with a little extra oomph to help their teammate.”
Shullsburg grabbed an early 2-0 lead on a layup by senior guard Hunter Matye at the 16:07 mark of the first half, but Reed fired up the Eagles by sinking three baskets during an 11-0 run to put his team ahead for good.
By the time senior center Joey Meyer snapped Shullsburg’s seven-minute and 36-second scoreless drought, Barneveld was feeling comfortable on both ends of the floor.
“This one hurts a lot. We’re familiar with Barneveld and we really felt that we had a good chance to beat them. We just didn’t get it done today. They out-hustled us,” said senior guard Noah Wand. “They’ve always been a hard opponent for us. They proved that they are a tough team.”
The Miners cut the gap to four at three different points in the final seven minutes of the first half, however the Eagles went into the halftime break sporting a 21-15 advantage.
“We’ve been here before so there was no panic,” said Lierman, noting his team has trailed at the half in four of their seven playoff games. “We talked about things we could do to get the ball into the middle of their zone. I felt pretty good about it considering how we shot the ball.”
A Meyer layup to start the second half brought the Miners back within four, but the Eagles answered back with a 13-2 run to build up a 34-19 lead. Shullsburg committed four turnovers and two fouls during the run, including an offensive foul by Matye that seemed to fire up the Eagles.
“We lost that pep in our step and they took advantage of it. Credit to them,’ replied Lierman. “They hit a couple of shots and you could just see their shoulders lift and their spirits lift. They were feeling it.”
Wand buried a 3-pointer with 11:05 to play to bring the Miners back within 12, however Barneveld ripped off another big scoring run to open up a commanding 48-25 lead. The Eagles closed the game by scoring the final 10 points.
“They’re a good team. We just weren’t getting shots (to fall),” said Matye, who was named to the Wissports.net All-Tournament team following the state final games and was also selected to the 2017 WBCA Division 5 All-State honorable mention squad.
Barneveld shot 70 percent (14-of-20) from the field in the second half and finished the game connecting on 57 percent (24-of-42) of their shots in the game. The Eagles also set a D5 state record by going a perfect 6-for-6 at the foul line.
Shullsburg shot just 19 percent (5-of-26) in the second half to finish the game shooting 25 percent (11-of-44).
Myers poured in a game-high 20 points for the Eagles, while Reed finished with 12 points and senior guard Mike Zouski netted 11 points.
The 28-point performance was a season-low for the Miners, and it also established a low for points in a D5 state tournament game and a D5 state final game.
“It’s just a really good zone (defense). Jimmy’s been doing that his whole life. It’s something you don’t see very often and they do a good job of it. What you have to do is shoot the ball a little better than normal, and we just didn’t shoot the ball very well today,” admitted Lierman.
Wand finished with nine points to lead the Miners. Matye tallied seven points, five rebounds and four assists, while Meyer added six points and four rebounds.
Meyer closes his career with 1,206 points and Matye ends with 1,130 career points.
“It feels good to be here, but it stings a lot. A trophy is nice, but we wanted gold. We’re happy with what we accomplished getting here. It was everything we wanted it to be,” said Meyer, who joined Matye on the WBCA Division 5 All-State honorable mention squad.
His teammates agreed. “It feels pretty good (taking second). We worked hard all season, but we just came up one game short. We ended on a great note except for the silver ball,” added senior guard Cameron Doyle.
“We’re the second best Division 5 team in the state this year. It’s pretty cool and it’s kind of special,” noted senior forward Lance Lierman.
The silver basketball joins Shullsburg’s silver football in the school’s trophy case, which most of their players also had a hand in earning last fall.
“We’re really proud of our accomplishments up to this point. We’re not going to let this one game tarnish our season because it’s been an outstanding season,” added Lierman, who also was an assistant coach of the football team.
“These are memories we’re going to have for a lifetime. When they bring their kids back to Shullsburg, they’ll show them that trophy and the one they won in football as well. Nobody in the history of Shullsburg has done that. The color of the trophies will fade in time, but the accomplishments will not. I’m really proud of them.”
Saturday’s game marked the final prep game at Shullsburg for a decorated senior class consisting of Matye, Meyer, Wand, Lierman, Doyle, Nathan Wedige, Jeremiah Bailey and William Martin, who posted an 87-18 overall record on varsity and claimed three Six Rivers West titles, two regional titles, a sectional title and a state runner-up trophy.
“I love these guys. With my son being in that class and all of them growing up together, this was a special team. It’s going to be tough to go to school on Monday and not be able to practice. It was a great season. They worked so hard and have played so many games together. I’m really proud of them for everything they’ve done for Shullsburg basketball, for me and especially for themselves.”
WIAA D5 STATE FINAL
Barneveld………… 21 37 – 58
Shullsburg……….. 15 13 – 28
Barneveld – Myers 20, Fargo 4, Laube 2, Evans 2, Reed 12, Zouski 11, Ignatius 3, Vacha 2, Shatrawka 2. Totals – 24 6-6 58.
Shullsburg – Lance Lierman 1, Hunter Matye 7, Jeremiah Bailey 2, Noah Wand 9, Joey Meyer 6, Cameron Doyle 3. Totals – 11 1-2 28.
3-point goals– B 4 (Myers 2, Zouski 1, Ignatius 1), S 5 (Matye 1, N. Wand 3, Doyle 1). Total fouls– B 9, S 9. Fouled out– None.