NEILLSVILLE — Defense and rebounding were crucial for the Wisconsin Dells boys basketball team in last Saturday’s Division 3 regional final, and the Chiefs put that recipe to use again Wednesday.
Clinging to a late one-point lead, the top-seeded Chiefs were strong on the glass and able to hit their free throws en route to a 61-55 win over Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau to reach their first sectional final since 2013. Wisconsin Dells (24-1) will face the winner of tonight’s game between Prescott and Ellsworth in Saturday’s sectional final in Menomonie at 1 p.m.
“It came down to getting rebounds and defense like all good games do,” Wisconsin Dells coach Brad Rohling said. “Free throws were huge, especially in the single bonus hitting the front ends and our kids just kept battling all night long.”
The Chiefs controlled the majority of the game, building a lead as big at 14 at 50-36 with 8 minutes, 50 seconds left on a 3-pointer by senior Alex Weiss, who scored a team-high 20 points. That lead quickly shriveled as the Red Hawks clamped down and answered with a 14-2 run over the next six-plus minutes to pull within 52-50 with 2:02 left to play.
A pair of Weiss free throws extended the Chiefs lead back to four at 54-50, but a 3-pointer by G-E-T senior Tyler Scherr, who scored 21 points, got the Red Hawks to within one at 54-53 with just over 1:20 to go. The Red Hawks weren’t able to get over the hump however as the Chiefs defense kicked in.
GALLERY: Wisconsin Dells boys basketball vs. G-E-T, Division 3 sectional semifinal
Photos of the Wisconsin Dells boys basketball team facing off with Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau in a Division 3 sectional semifinal game on Wednesday, Feb. 7 at Neillsville High School. The Chiefs held off the Red Hawks, 61-55, to reach their first sectional final since 2013.
Wisconsin Dells limited G-E-T to just two points over the final 80 seconds and were able to salt the game away from the line. After senior Tanner Brandt, who scored 14 points, hit one of two free throws with 0:58 remaining, Scherr missed the front end of a 1-and-1.
Senior Jackson Sveum, who added 12 points, then hit one of two free throws to extend the lead back to four at 57-53 with 42.3 seconds remaining. After a Scherr layup with 0:30 left trimmed the lead back to two, Brandt hit a pair of free throws and the Red Hawks missed on the ensuing possession and Weiss secured the rebound with 12 seconds left and made two free throws to put things away.
“We just knew we had to keep playing strong,” Weiss said. “We’re strong with the ball and knew that if we wanted to be on offense more, we had to get it done on the defensive end.”
Wisconsin Dells came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, building a 14-4 lead in the opening five minutes, including a pair of Sveum 3-pointers. The Chiefs built off that lead and went into the intermission up 33-24, but knew that the Red Hawks weren’t going to go away.
“We knew they were going to go on a run; they’re a great shooting team,” Brandt said. “So we just had to respond to it, stay calm and do what we do best.”
With one game left with a chance at the Chiefs’ first state berth since 2007 on the line, Weiss knows the strategy for Saturday’s game is a simple one.
“We just have to play Dells basketball,” he said.
WISCONSIN DELLS 61, GALE-ETTRICK-TREMPEALEAU 55
Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau 24 31 — 55
Wisconsin Dells 33 28 — 61
GALE-ETTRICK-TREMPEALEAU — Kvistad 1 0-0 2, C.Thompson 9 5-7 27, Kriesel 1 0-0 2, Scherr 7 0-1 21, Schmidt 1 0-0 3. Totals 19 5-8 55.
WISCONSIN DELLS — Weiss 6 4-4 20, Brandt 5 3-4 14, McClolskey 0, Sveum 4 1-21 12, Hirst 1 4-6 6, Funmaker 2 0-0 5, Eck 1 1-2 3, McCloskey 1. Totals 19 14-20 61.
3-point goals — WD 9 (Weiss 4, Brandt 1, Sveum 3, Funmaker 1), GET 9 (C.Thompson 4, Scherr 4, Schmidt 1). Total fouls — WD 13, GET 19. Fouled out — Schmidt.