BENTON – Shullsburg went into Monday night’s regional championship contest against #10-ranked Benton knowing they had to give their best effort of the season if they hoped to claim the program’s first regional title since 1994.
The Miners’ effort was A+ throughout the night, but the Zephyrs’ effort turned out to be one point better as they knocked off Shullsburg, 46-45, in overtime in a sensational WIAA Division 5 regional final boys’ basketball game at BHS on March 5.
“It’s just a shame someone had to lose this game,” said Shullsburg head coach Mark Lierman. “I’m proud of my kids and proud of their effort. We battled them down to the end. The ball just didn’t fall when we needed it to.”
The Miners (15-10 overall) took their final lead of the night when junior Kyle Hoppman hit the first of two free throws with 1:47 remaining in overtime to give the guests a 43-42 lead.
Senior guard David Neis grabbed the lead right back for the Zephyrs (22-3) moments later when he scored while being fouled on a drive to the basket. He missed the ensuing free throw, but the rebound by Benton’s Mitchell Brant extended the play and the Zephyrs ran off an entire minute of the game clock while Shullsburg fouled to get into the bonus.
Then, Brant calmly hit a pair of bonus free throws with 24 seconds to go to extend the Zephyr lead to 46-43.
Shullsburg center John Meyer brought the Miners back within a point on a basket with 15 seconds to play; and, after a missed free throw by Brant, the Miners had a final chance to pull out the victory.
Junior Collin Hauser was fouled on a screen with six ticks remaining on the clock, but Hauser’s bonus free throw was off the mark, leaving the Zephyrs leading 46-45 with the ball.
Neis missed a free throw with two seconds remaining and the Miners secured the rebound, but they couldn’t get off a shot before time ran out.
“Collin’s really taking it hard right now, but I told him it never comes down to just those last free throws. They were just magnified by the situation. We had many other opportunities where we missed shots or didn’t get a key rebound,” Lierman noted. “I feel bad for Collin right now, but his teammates have his back. They know the guy lives, eats and sleeps basketball.”
Shullsburg went into the night trying to exorcise many demons against the Zephyrs.
The Miners had lost to Benton twice already this season, by 18 and 16 points, respectively, to extend the program’s losing streak to Benton to 17 games dating back to the 2006 playoffs– which also happened to be the last regional final appearance for Shullsburg; and the Miners have also posted a 3-17 record in the Benton gym over the past six years coming into Monday’s game with 11 straight losses to the Zephyrs on their home court.
And, even though the Miners didn’t entirely exorcise those demons, they did a good job of getting the Zephyrs out of their heads.
“We didn’t play scared. We lost the game in between the lines, but we didn’t lose it in our heads. That’s what happened in the first two games. We just didn’t believe it then, but we believed it tonight,” stated Lierman.
Shullsburg opened up a 13-8 lead late in the first quarter until Benton answered with a 9-0 spurt to grab a 17-13 advantage a minute into the second quarter.
The Miners closed the half on a 14-5 run to take a 27-22 lead into the locker room at the intermission.
Neis started to heat up for the Zephyrs in the third quarter, scoring seven of his game-high 19 points in that period to pull the hosts within a point at 34-33 heading into the fourth frame.
The Zephyrs took a 36-34 lead on a 3-pointer by Laine Carver early in the fourth, and baskets by Brant and Neis extended the lead to 40-36 with 3:34 to play.
Senior Nate Carrier and junior Pierce Russell knocked down layups down the stretch to bring the Miners even at 40 all. Shullsburg got a final chance to win the game in regulation following a turnover by the Zephyrs with six seconds remaining, but Russell couldn’t get off a shot before time ran out.
“We put a scare into them. If a couple more shots would have fallen, it could have been a different outcome,” said Lierman.
Carrier led the way with 12 points and had five rebounds, and Russell tallied eight points and four assists. Hauser scored seven points and Meyer added six points and five rebounds, while senior Jacob Scott pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds and had two assists.
Brant chipped in with 13 points for the Zephyrs, who advance to face Southwestern (20-5) in Shullsburg on Thursday, March 8, at 7 p.m.
Monday’s game marked the final game at Shullsburg for seniors Jacob Scott, Nate Carrier, Zach Wedige and Jacob Meyer.
“I’m really proud of these seniors. I would have liked to get them a plaque and another game to see what would happen,” Lierman commented. “It was a very successful season, especially considering the way it started. I’m happy with the turnaround.”
Shullsburg began the year with a 2-7 record, but won 13 of their next 15 games to advance to the regional final for the first time since 2006.
Monday’s regional final game was pushed back from Saturday due to Friday’s snowstorm, which caused many regional semifinal games around the area to be postponed. Shullsburg defeated Potosi, 61-47, in the D-5 semifinal on Saturday evening, while Benton routed Cassville, 63-34, to advance to the regional championship game for the sixth consecutive season.
At Shullsburg, on Tuesday, Feb. 28, junior guard Pierce Russell went 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and sophomore John Meyer added six of his season-high 10 points in the final period to help the #4-seeded Miners hold off #11-seeded Wauzeka-Steuben, 61-54, in a WIAA Division 5 regional quarterfinal game.
The Miners outscored the visiting Hornets (6-16) in three of the four quarters, but they had trouble putting the guests away.
The Hornets tied the score at 51 all with 3:18 to play on a pair of free throws by Teagan Cornell, but Jacob Scott answered with a basket and an assist to Meyer to put the Miners up 55-51, and Russell sank six free throws in the final 26.1 seconds to seal the victory.
Russell finished with a game-high 19 points and six rebounds, while Scott added 17 points and eight boards.
Cornell and Joe Huber scored 15 points apiece to pace the Hornets.
At Shullsburg, on Saturday, March 3, the third time continued to be the charm for the Miners as they used a huge fourth-quarter outburst to rally past Six Rivers West rival Potosi for a 61-47 regional semifinal victory.
Potosi (16-8) held a 37-33 advantage over the Miners heading into the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t keep the Miners down in the final eight minutes of play as the hosts closed the game on a 28-10 scoring run, including an 11-for-16 performance from the foul line in the closing stanza, to post their third victory over the Chieftains this season.
Jacob Scott tallied a season-high 20 points to lead all scorers in the game and he pulled down a team-high eight rebounds.
Pierce Russell followed with 15 points and five assists, while Collin Hauser chipped in with nine points and Nate Carrier added eight for the Miners.
Hunter Leibfried led Potosi with 12 points, and Mitch Langkamp and Tim Fritz netted 11 apiece for the guests.
WIAA D5 REGIONAL FINAL
Shullsburg… 13 14 7 6 5 - 45
Benton…….. 15 7 11 7 6 - 46
Leading Scorers: Nate Carrier 12, Pierce Russell 8, Collin Hauser 7, John Meyer 6, Jacob Scott 5, Reid Schwartz 4, Kyle Hoppman 3.
WIAA D5 REGIONAL SEMIFINAL
Potosi…....… 18 5 14 10 - 47
Shullsburg… 14 10 9 28 - 61
Leading Scorers: Jacob Scott 20, Pierce Russell 15, Collin Hauser 9, Nate Carrier 8, John Meyer 5, Kyle Hoppman 4.
WIAA D5 REGIONAL QUARTERFINAL
Wauzeka/Steuben… 10 12 18 14 - 54
Shullsburg…………. 12 14 17 18 - 61
Leading Scorers: Pierce Russell 19, Jacob Scott 17, John Meyer 10, Collin Hauser 8, Reid Schwartz 3, Nate Carrier 2, Kyle Hoppman 2.