WISCONSIN DELLS — With its defensive pressure and ability to make shots, the Wisconsin Dells boys basketball team seem to suffocate opponents.
At the start of Friday night’s WIAA Division 2 regional semifinal, Portage seemed to be grasping for air against the Chiefs, trailing by 19 at halftime. Ultimately, the fourth-seeded Warriors found their footing and were able to make a run at the No. 1 seed.
In the end however, Portage’s rally attempt fell short as Wisconsin Dells weathered a strong second half push for a 62-47 win on Jack B. Olson Court at Wisconsin Dells High School. Portage junior Cooper Roberts scored a game-high 18 points while Wisconsin Dells junior Jacob Rockwell tallied 17 to help power the Chiefs to their sixth consecutive regional final.
Wisconsin Dells will face a familiar foe Saturday night as it hosts South Central Conference foe Adams-Friendship after the third-seeded Green Devils edged out a 45-44 upset win over Mauston on Friday.
“It’s hard to come back like that, especially when a few of our guys had played a lot of minutes at that point, so I’m really proud that our kids continued to battle,” Portage coach Darrin Berger said. “They faced adversity and it would have been easy to fold it in and call it a season, but they kept working.”
That work started early in the second half as the Chiefs (14-1) opened the final 18 minutes on a 7-3 spurt, capped off by a Brett Weiss 3-pointer with 15 minutes, 8 seconds left to go, for their largest lead of the night at 47-24.
Portage (6-18) countered back from there however as the Warriors started to heat up. Kaden Hooker answered the Weiss 3 with a triple of his own, sparking a 20-7 run for the Warriors.
Hooker added four more points during the run and Hayes Hensler, who finished with 14 points, capped things off with a layup with 7:58 remaining that cut the lead to single-digits at 53-44. Like they have this season however, the Chiefs responded.
Wisconsin Dells answered back with a 6-0 dash over the next five minutes to retake a 15-point lead. Will Michalsky and Barrett Witt, who tacked on 15 points, each split pairs of free throws and Rockwell and Matt Hoving each got layups to drop to help extend the Chiefs’ advantage to 59-44.
“It was very crucial, just because they were on a nice run and we were having trouble offensively,” Wisconsin Dells coach Brad Rohling said of the response.
“Barrett got some rebounds and Jared (Nevar) got a couple big rebounds for us; they were letting them play down under and we were battling, which is a good thing.”
Roberts ended the Portage drought as he buried all three free throws after being fouled on a 3-pointer with 2:51 to go to pull within 59-47, but the Warriors never got closer. Wisconsin Dells answered with a Nevar layup and made enough free throws in the end to salt things away.
“They put a little pressure on us and we got in a little lull offensively, but we were able to just do enough; hit enough shots and get to the free throw line enough to get it to a comfortable margin,” Rohling said.
That was far from the case in the first half as the Chiefs were cooking early, taking a 26-13 lead with 7:52 left in the first half on back-to-back buckets from Michalsky. Brooks Slack, who added 12 points on four 3-pointers, added the third of his three first-half triples after before a Witt 3 made it 34-17 with 4:40 to go.
Portage answered with a 4-0 spurt, including a Roberts 3-point play with 3 minutes until the break, but Wisconsin Dells closed on a 6-0 run to head into the break leading 40-21.
“We had some opportunities, I thought, where we didn’t finish or stuff like that, but a lot of that is because of them, too, no doubt about that,” Berger said.
“They’re a good team and they do what they do well.”
Alongside Roberts and Hensler, Hooker added eight points for the Warriors, while Michalsky chipped in seven for the Chiefs. For Rohling, Michalsky and Slack added a much needed boost off the bench, something that will definitely be needed moving forward.
“I told them in the locker room ‘It doesn’t matter who plays, how much you play or how many points you score. At this point, the only thing that matters is winning.’ We just have to try to keep it going; figure out who’s hot and ride them out,” he said.
As for the Warriors, it’s a bittersweet end to a momentum building season. Despite finishing 12 games under .500, Berger knows it’s a good stepping stone looking ahead to next year, and a nice feather in the caps of seniors Hensler, Alex Schuette and Brandon Simons.
“Our three seniors are great kids and a great example for everybody, and that’s what I said in there first and foremost,” he said. “I think we have a ton of potential here. We just have to put in the work to get better; we made the step to be competitive, and now we have to make the step to where, night in and night out, we can consistently win.”
WISCONSIN DELLS 62, PORTAGE 47
PORTAGE (fg ft-fta pts) — Mael 0 1-2 1, Brouette 2 0-0 6, Hensler 6 2-3 14, Roberts 6 5-6 18, Hooker 3 1-4 8. Totals 17 9-15 47.
WISCONSIN DELLS — M. Hoving 1 0-0 2, J. Knetter 1 0-0 3, Michalsky 3 1-2 7, Slack 4 0-0 12, Rockwell 6 4-8 17, Witt 6 2-5 15, Weiss 1 1-2 3, Nevar 1 1-2 3. Totals 23 9-19 62.
3-point goals: P 4 (Brouette 2, Roberts 1, Hooker 1); WD 7 (Slack 4, J. Knetter 1, Rockwell 1, Witt 1). Total fouls: P 14; WD 14.