WISCONSIN DELLS — Defense has been the backbone of the Wisconsin Dells boys basketball team all season, so it was fitting that when the Chiefs needed it most, it was their defense came through.
Clinging to a three-point lead with seconds remaining, sophomore Brett Hirst blocked a game-tying 3-point attempt by Altoona senior Brett Platzek and senior Jackson Sveum gathered the loose ball as time ran out to help secure the Chiefs 60-57 win over the Rails in a Division 3 regional final at Wisconsin Dells High School on Saturday night.
The win snapped a two-year losing streak in the regional finals for the top-seeded Chiefs, who advanced to Wednesday’s sectional semifinal in Neillsville against Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau. The second-seeded Red Hawks rolled past Black River Falls 75-52 on Saturday.
“It’s great. We’ve been there before, it just hasn’t worked out for us,” Wisconsin Dells coach Brad Rohling said. “We struggled at times with certain things, but as long as you come out with the win, that’s all you care about at this point.”
Wisconsin Dells (23-1) built a 58-51 lead with 2 minutes, 12 seconds left to play after a pair of free throws by senior Alex Weiss, who scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half, but Altoona (17-8) didn’t go away. The Railroaders responded with a 6-1 run, cutting the Chiefs lead to 59-57 with 0:45 to go after layup by senior Mitch Adrian.
The Chiefs bled 21 seconds off the clock before Bryson Funmaker was fouled with 23.7 seconds to go. The sophomore missed the front end of the double bonus but composed himself and sank the second to put the Chiefs up 60-57.
Altoona came back down the floor and called a timeout with 18.7 seconds left to set up a shot at a game-tying 3-pointer. Wisconsin Dells thwarted any chance of that and forced the Railroaders to call their final timeout with 5.1 remaining.
Altoona junior Jake Nelson got the ball to Platzek, who had sank three 3-pointers earlier in the game, in the left corner, but Hirst blanketed the 6-foot-3 wing from the start of the play and partially blocked the shot before Sveum secured the ball, and the win.
While the pair of Funmaker and Hirst combined for just four points, Rohling lauded the sophomore duo for their execution on the defensive end.
“They’ve led us all year defensively,” he said. “they set the tone with their intensity and they’re just tough kids. Bryson makes some mistakes, but he just makes up for it with his effort. And the last play, Brett came to the huddle and said he wasn’t going to let him touch it. Brett let him touch it, but he blocked it so he made up for it that way.”
While it came out with the win, Wisconsin Dells was in an unfamiliar spot as the Chiefs went into the break trailing 30-25. The Chiefs took an 18-12 lead with 7 minutes, 5 seconds left in the first half on a hook shot by senior Tanner Brandt, who scored a game-high 26 points.
The Railroaders responded however, closing the half on an 18-7 run, capped by a 3-pointer by senior Mitch Adrian and a layup by senior Tyler Chilson, to send the Chiefs into the intermission down five.
“Coach Rohling just came into the locker room and said ‘Do you want to win or do you want to lose?’” senior Alex Weiss said. “We struggled in the first half, but we knew we wanted that plaque more than anybody.”
It took some time as the Railroaders opened the half on a 6-2 run to build a 36-27 lead with 15:50 left to play, but the Chiefs answered. After a corner 3-pointer by Weiss, Hirst got a steal and a layup followed by back-to-back hook shots by Brandt and junior Dylan Anchor to knot things at 36 with 14:30 to go.
The teams traded punches from there until the Chiefs began to pull away before ultimately shutting the door on Altoona.
“It basically came down to heart and rebounding,” said Brandt, who scored his 1,000th career point with his first basket of the game. “We had to rebound a lot better than we did in the first half and we had to give more heart too.”
“Second half, I thought there was no panic because I had a feeling our kids would find a way,” Rohling added.
It will be a short break for the Chiefs as they will only have a few days to get ready for the Red Hawks. According to Rohling, G-E-T provides plenty of length and athleticism to go along with an affinity for shooting 3-pointers. Both Weiss and Brandt know they can take a lot away from their win over the Railroaders.
“If we want to win and get all the way to where we want to be, we have to play defense. If we do that against them, we have a really good chance,” Weiss said.
“They have a lot of sizem so we have to rebound a lot; that’s going to be a key point. And we just have to do what we do best,” Brandt added.
Wisconsin Dells 65, West Salem 46
Before taking care of business against Altoona, the Chiefs breezed to a 65-46 win over West Salem in the regional final on Friday.
Wisconsin Dells built a comfortable 31-21 lead at halftime before easing home in the second half. Again Brandt and Weiss were the big weapons on the offensive end.
Brandt poured in a game-high 35 points, including six 3-pointers, while Weiss added 22 behind three 3-pointers of his own.
WISCONSIN DELLS 60, ALTOONA 57
Altoona 30 27 — 57
Wisconsin Dells 25 35 — 60
ALTOONA — Adrian 5 2-2 14, McMahon 0 1-2 1, Nelson 2 0-0 6, Eisolo 1 0-0 3, Hanson 1 0-0 2, Chilson 4 4-4 12, Ystebo 4 2-3 10, Platzek 3 0-0 9. Totals 20 9-12 57.
WISCONSIN DELLS — Weiss 6 8-9 23, Brandt 11 3-4 26, Sveum 0 3-4 3, Hirst 1 0-0 2, Funmaker 0 2-4 2, Anchor 2 0-0 4. Totals 20 16-21 60.
3-point goals — Alt 8 (Adrian 2, Nelson 2, Eisolo 1, Platzek 3), WD 4 (Weiss 3, Brandt 1). Total fouls — Alt 17, WD 15.
WISCONSIN DELLS 65, WEST SALEM 46
West Salem 20 26 — 46
Wisconsin Dells 31 34 — 65
WEST SALEM — Athnos 4 6-7 15, Godlewski 4 0-0 9, Wakefield 3 0-0 7, Foreman 0 1-4 1, Lattos 1 4-4 6, Dunham 3 0-0 8. Totals 15 11-15 46.
WISCONSIN DELLS — Weiss 8 3-5 22, Brandt 14 1-3 35, Sveum 0 2-2 2, Hirst 1 0-0 2, Anchor 1 0-0 2, Musiedlak 0 2-3 2. Totals 24 8-13 65.
3-point goals — WS 5 (Athnos 1, Godlewski 1, Wakefield 1, Dunham 2), WD 9 (Weiss 3, Brandt 6). Total fouls — WS 11, WD 15.