PATCH GROVE — Fennimore was on the mat, but never counted out.
Top-seeded and previously unbeaten River Ridge made 9 of 12 3-point attempts and held a 38–24 lead with 1:18 left in the first half.
The host Timberwolves had everything going their way, but they couldn’t deliver the knock out blow.
The visiting No. 2 seed Golden Eagles authored a second-half defensive effort that was even more impressive than Ridge’s nine 3-pointer, 38-point outburst in the first half to rally for a 51–44 victory in Saturday night’s WIAA Division 4 regional final at River Ridge High School.
Fennimore (16–5) held River Ridge to just three heavily contested jump shots by sophomore Braden Crubel and outscored the home team 27–6 in the final 19-plus minutes to eek out a seven-point regional championship victory.
“We are always proud to win a regional title,” said Fennimore head coach Troy Larson. “After our COVID shutdown in January and our 1–4 stretch right after that, we met in a classroom and I told the kids we had two choices. I said we could just roll over and play out the season and go through the motions, or two, that we go back to work and try to still make something special of the rest of the season. They chose the later and I am very happy with their decision. We have only lost one game since that debacle.”
Saturday night almost was the end of the line.
River Ridge (22–1) opened the game with a 3-pointer by Crubel, then junior David Nies answered a triple by senior Adam Larson, by scoring back-to-back layups over the 6’9” Fennimore D1 recruit.
Senior Lance Nichols hit back-to-back 3-pointers from the corner against Fennimore’s 1–3–1 zone, then Crubel banked in a triple from the wing to make it 22–19.
Larson answered with a deep 25-foot 3-pointer (his fourth of the half‚ from the top of the key to tie the game moments later, but Nichols scored on a putback and junior Logan Drone hit a short corner jumper to give Ridge a 26–22 lead.
The the Timberwolves’, Crubel, Nies, senior Will Cooley and Nichols hit 3-pointers in succession as the Ridge lead balloned to 14 points at 38–24.
“They got off to the ideal start and you have to tip your cap when every shot is falling,” said coach Larson. “But when the shoe is on the other foot its not so fun, especially when we have been playing our zone so well. We have never given up 38 points in a half.”
The Wolves’ sizzling touch from the outside forced the Eagles to play man the rest of the game and what a difference that made”
“Defensively we were flat to begin the game,” said coach Larson. “We were a step slow on rotations and we did not bring the intensity we have in the past few weeks. That gave them a number of opportunities and they took advantage. Let’s be real, sitting at 22–0, and playing on their home court, they didn’t want to go home and they had all the confidence in the world in that first half.”
But Fennimore quickly turned the tide.
The Eagles ended the half with a dunk by Larson, while being fouled (he missed the free throw) and a free throw by senior Warren Adam to make it an 11-point game.
Fennimore then opene dthe second half with nine straight points and a 12–2 run that trimmed the deficit to 40–39 with 12:36 remaining.
“I told our kids if could cut it to five before the 10-minute mark in the second half, we could give ourselves a chance,” said Larson. “And that’s exactly what we did. The kids stuck to the game plan and battled and found a way.”
Crubel hit a tough pull-up jumper in the lane on the ensuing possession, then scored on a rebound putback with 10:19 left to put the Wolves up 44–39, but Fennimore held the Wolves scoreless the rest of the way.
“Defensively we wanted to play man and only guard our man and not help in the second half,” added Larson. “Our job was to beat the man against us and not let him get a good look, and we played lights out the final 18 minutes.”
Sophomore Brady Larson buried a 3-pointer, then assisted on junior Mason Adkins’ game-tying layup to make it 44–44. Brady Larson then hit a pair of free throws on the next trip to give Fennimore the lead for good at 46–44 with 7:08 remaining.
Senior Warren Adam scored on a driving layup with left to break a four-minute scoreless stalemate, then scored again with 1:40 left to make it 50–44.
Ridge missed five 3-pointers in the final 1:25, and Adam Larson split a pair of free throws with 48.5 seconds left to account for the final score.
Larson finished with a game-high 25 points, including 18 in the first half to keep Fennimore in the game, 14 rebounds and eight blocked shots, and managed to play the final 3:37 without pickup his fifth foul. He also made 6 of 8 3-point attempts.
“He was given what he could,” said coach Larson. “He just didn’t want it to end as a senior. He just didn’t quit battling even when he got that fifth foul. He could have backed down and went into a corner and said, well I can’t get my fifth foul.”
Warren Adam finished with 11 points, and fellow senior Druw Fifrick played started the second half and played all of the final 18 minutes without committing a turnover, despite not starting the game.
“Some of our underclassmen were struggling and have never been in these situations before and I just wanted to lean on senior leadership,” said coach Larson. “And Druw, Adam and Warren did a nice job handling that pressure in the second half.”
Fennimore (16–5) will now travel to Racine to face No. 2 seed The Prairie School (21–3) in a Division 4 sectional semifinal tonight at 7 p.m.
The sectional was reseeded Sunday. SWAL runner-up Cuba City (20–2) earned the No. 1 seed and will host No. 4 Randolph (22–3) in the other sectional semifinal Thursday night.
Larson and company will now make the three-hour trip to Racine to face the Hawks, who finished second in the Metro Classic Conference behind Racine St. Catherine’s (24–1), the #1-ranked team in Division 3.
Senior Antaun Nesbitt, a 6’4” Division 2 Northern Michigan recruit, is averaging 19.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game — all team highs —for the Hawks.
Six-foot-six sophomore Ashe Oglesby is averaging 10.2 points and 6.1 rebounds.
“They are good,” said coach Larson. “They have size, they have athleticism and they have shooters. And they play a very, very tough schedule in a tough a private school conference. They are a classic private school team. We are going to have to play well, especially being on their home court. We will not be able to have a poor start like at River Ridge.
“We have to play Fennimore basketball. We can not get caught up in their tempo. We have do what we are good at as a team. If that is able to be carried out, I think it should be a very good, close game.”
LARSON BREAKS SCORING RECORD
With his game-high 25 point effort in Saturday’s regional final, senior Adam Larson eclipsed the final scoring mark in school history when he became Fennimore’s all-time leading scorer for both boys and girls basketball.
Larson, who recently passed older brother Reid Larson (1,640 points), a 2019 FHS graduate, and uncle Kevin Larson (1,574 points), a 1987 graduate, to become the boys’ all-time leading scorer surpassed 2012 grad Breland (Prochaska) Scharschmidt (1,678 points) as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Larson now has 1,699 points entering Thursday’s WIAA D4 sectional semifinal at The Prairie School in Racine.
“Just as anything, these kinds of records only come with team success,” said coach Larson. “You have to play a lot of games to achieve big scoring numbers and that means winning playoff games to have a chance. We have never chanced game plans for anyone to chase personal records. It all came in the course of trying to win games as a team. Adam certainly has special abilities, but this is a team game and those kinds of things only fall into place with great teammates playing winning basketball.”
WIAA Division 4 Regional Final
Fennimore 51, River Ridge 44
(from Saturday, Feb. 20 @ Patch Grove)
No. 2 Fennimore 27 24 — 51
No. 1 River Ridge 38 6 — 44
Fennimore (16–5) — Warren Adam 11, Adam Larson 25, Brady Larson 7, Austin Horn 4, Mason Adkins 4. Totals — 18-37 8-13 51.
River Ridge (22–1) — Logan Drone 5, Braden Crubel 14, Lance Nichols 11, Ian Adrian 2, Will Cooley 3, David Nies 8. Totals — 17-59 2-2 44.
3-point goals — F: 7-10 (A. Larson 6, B. Larson 1), RR: 9-25 (Drone 1, Crubel 3, Nichols 3, Cooley 1, Nies 1). Team fouls — F: 10, RR: 18. Fouled out — none.