MADISON – Down by eight early in the second half against the defending state champions, Shullsburg’s five senior starters teamed up to keep the Miners’ magical season alive.
A 3-point play by senior guard Nathan Wedige kicked off a 22-6 scoring run that turned an eight-point deficit into an eight-point lead as the #7-ranked Miners knocked off the #1-ranked McDonell Central Macks, 63-48, in a WIAA Division 5 state semifinal boys’ basketball at the Kohl Center in Madison on Friday, March 17.
“I thought we played a really good opponent well,” said Shullsburg head coach Mark Lierman referring to the Macks, who returned to state for a second straight season after winning the D5 title in 2016. “We had guys who did really intelligent things and stepped up and hit shots. We took care of the ball and we knocked down free throws. The guys were really mentally tough.”
The two teams brought an impressive combination of size, experience and athleticism into the game with the McDonell Central sporting a senior-led starting line-up featuring three players 6’5” or taller and Shullsburg countering with an all-senior line-up with four players 6’3” or taller.
The lead swapped hands four times and the teams were tied up on five other occasions in the first 13 minutes of the game.
The Macks (24-4 overall) closed the first half on a 10-2 scoring run over the final 5:11 to take a 30-24 lead into the locker room at the intermission. Grayson Knowlton, a 6’5” senior forward, scored 11 points in the first half, while senior guard Nathan Hoglund added seven points in the half for the Macks.
“They took it to us early, but we stayed close enough to give ourselves a chance. At halftime, we talked about just keep doing what we do. We tried to clean up our defense,” commented Lierman, whose team trailed at the half for the fifth time all season and the third time during their playoff run.
A layup by 6’7” senior forward Alex Ohde and a basket by N. Hoglund extended the Macks’ lead to 34-26 with 16:38 remaining, however Wedige came back with an old-fashioned three-point play just moments later to kick start the Miners’ rally.
A layup by senior forward Lance Lierman and a crowd-pleasing slam dunk by senior center Joey Meyer brought the Miners (26-2) back within a point with 15:30 to play. Meyer added a layup a minute later to give Shullsburg its first lead since the 5:25 mark of the first half.
“In small school basketball, you get a dunk that’s a huge thing. Our size came into play, and we matched their intensity,” Lierman noted.
Knowlton briefly gave the Macks back the lead with a layup, but senior guard Hunter Matye followed with a layup of his own to put the Miners back on top to stay. Senior guard Noah Wand and Lierman each sank a 3-pointer, while Meyer and Lierman added two free throws apiece and Matye buried a jumper to make it 48-40 with 6:53 to go.
“Once we settled down, we were okay. Basically, we stopped settling. In the first half, we settled a bit for quick shots or not so good shots. We started making the extra pass and it worked out well,” said Meyer.
Matye added, “They were playing a tough man-to-man defense, so we tried to go backdoor. That worked quite a bit (in the second half).”
Another layup by Matye put the Miners up 53-43 with under three minutes remaining, and he combined with his teammates to go 8-of-10 from the foul line over the final two minutes and 19 seconds to seal their school-record 26th victory. Shullsburg finished 17-for-22 from the line in the game, and went 12-for-15 at the stripe in the second half.
McDonell Central outscored Shullsburg 22-8 in the paint and 10-0 off turnovers in the first half, but the Miners turned the table in the second half holding an 11-0 edge off turnovers and matching the Macks with 12 points in the paint.
The Miners outscored the Macks, 39-18, in the second half by shooting an impressive 63 percent (12-of-19) on the offensive end and limiting the Macks to 29 percent (8-of-28) shooting on the defensive end. McDonell Central shot just 2-of-17 from beyond the 3-point arch, including a 1-of-10 performance in the second half.
Matye led the Miners with a game-high 19 points and he added team highs with seven rebounds and seven assists. Wand hit two 3s on his way to 13 points and he tallied four assists, three steals and two blocked shots. Lierman scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half and pulled down five rebounds, while Meyer chipped in with 11 points, five boards and two steals.
“It’s something we’ve dreamed about every day since elementary school. You just get goosebumps thinking about it,” commented Meyer about advancing to the Saturday’s state championship game.
Knowlton finished with a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while N. Hogland followed with nine points and two assists. After combining for 18 points in the first half, the duo was held to just four combined points in the second half and they were shutout over the final 14 minutes.
Junior Hayden Baughman netted eight points, while Ohde– the Macks’ all-time leading scorer and the Western Cloverbelt reigning Player of the Year– was limited to JUST five points after sitting much of the first half with early foul trouble.
“We had a pretty good scout (report) on them. We knew what they liked to do,” stated Lierman.
Third-ranked Barneveld rolled over fourth-ranked Marshfield Columbus Catholic, 72-52, in the other D5 state semifinal game to set up an all-Six Rivers Conference finale. The Eagles won the Eastern Division of the Six Rivers this season, and the Miners won the Western title.
“To do this with these guys, my son and his friends, and with Bob (Boettcher), it’s just so special. It’s a family thing. I know it sounds cliché, but it really is. It’s something to behold to be a part of this. I wish every coach could experience this,” said Lierman, who was an assistant on Boettcher’s state championship Shullsburg squad in 1991 and head coach of Shullsburg’s state runner-up girls’ basketball team in 1996.
WIAA D5 STATE SEMIFINAL
McDonell Central… 30 18 – 48
Shullsburg………… 24 39 – 63
McDonell Central – Knowlton 13, C. Hoglund 2, Amelse 5, Ohde 5, Sorensen 6, Baughman 8, N. Hoglund 9. Totals – 21 4-6 48.
Shullsburg – Lance Lierman 12, Hunter Matye 19, Noah Wand 13, Nathan Wedige 5, Joey Meyer 11, Cameron Doyle 3. Totals – 21 17-22 63.
3-point goals– MC 2 (Amelse 1, N. Hoglund 1), SH 4 (Lierman 1, N. Wand 2, Doyle 1). Total fouls– MC 19, SH 13. Fouled out– None.