WAUPUN — Like a trophy fish, Cambria-Friresland’s prep boys basketball team was intent on not getting reeled into the boat Tuesday night on the road against Central Wisconsin Christian.
The Hilltoppers bobbed and they weaved and ultimately they were able to break the line and escape with a 53-49, non-conference victory in a contest that twice saw the Crusaders rally when it looked like they might fall too far behind to catch up.
“We took some quick shots that we didn’t need. Those are ones that we’ll talk about tomorrow and hopefully improve on,” Toppers’ coach Derrick Smit said of seeing a nine-point advantage with 6½ minutes remaining turn into a chance for CWC to tie the game in the finals seconds. “I give them credit. They went down and made a couple tough shots there. But I thought some of those quick shots — we just didn’t value the basketball down the stretch.”
Cade Burmania’s drive to the basket with 7 minutes, 25 seconds left gave C-F (9-2) a 42-36 lead and then a minute later he converted an and-one after getting fouled on a fastbreak lay-up to make it 45-36, seemingly putting the Toppers in position to salt the game away.
But Maxwell Vander Werff’s basket with 5:23 to go sparked a 9-1 run for CWC (6-4), one which also included a transition jumper by him, an old-fashioned three-point play by Benn McKean and then a 1-for-2 trip to the free throw line by McKean before Cade Vlietstra’s bank shot capped the surge off to get the Crusaders within 46-45 with 2:33 left.
That was as close as they’d get, however, as Drake Burmania’s steal and fastbreak lay-up made it 48-45 with 1:40 to go; Griffin Hart’s basket inside made it 50-47 with 51 ticks left; and two free throws by Gavin Winchell made it 52-49 with 25.2 seconds remaining.
CWC did get a 3-point attempt from Vlietstra on the left wing with 15 seconds to go, but the shot was contested and came up well short. And the Toppers were able to corral the loose ball after it bounced around for a bit, ultimately slamming the door shut when Cade Burmania went 1-of-2 at the line with 3.5 seconds left.
“We were gutting it out all night long,” said CWC coach Josh Gibbons, whose team also rallied from down 18-9 in the first half and thanks to a 15-2 run led 24-20 at the break. “We’re just back to full-strength. We had a couple guys who had COVID and a couple guys who were in quarantine, so we haven’t been full strength in a month. A couple guys were winded, but I thought we worked hard.
“I’m proud of the effort. (The Hilltoppers) are a good team so there’s really nothing to hang your head about. They’re athletic across the board. I thought we played hard, just a couple too many mistakes — some things we can clean up and then it would go the other way.”
Cambria-Friesland, the 10th-ranked team in Division 5 in this week’s Associated Press poll, got the job done in the second half thanks in large part to Cade Burmania, who had 14 of his game-high 20 points over the final 18 minutes.
“At halftime we said we need to create something, because we knew we weren’t hitting some outside shots and we were settling for stuff that we didn’t want,” Smit said. “So we went to more of our dribble-drive offensive stuff and told Cade, ‘Attack the basket; see if you can dish or if someone doesn’t come over (to help), score.’
“In the second half, I thought Cade pushed the tempo on offense — attacked the basket extremely well — and just made things happen for us.”
The Toppers were able to knot things up pretty quickly in the second half, tying the score at 25 with 2½ minutes gone by on Kobe Smit’s fastbreak lay-up. But it wasn’t until midway through the half that they would pull away a little bit, using a 10-3 run over the span of 3½ minutes to turn a 35-33 advantage into the 45-36 lead.
But one reason the Crusaders never fell into too big of a hole is because of the way they defended against Smit and Hart, who entered averaging 17.4 and 17.2 points per game, respectively but finished with 8 and 11 in this one.
Gibbons said team defense was a big reason for the success against those two, but pointed out that Riley Westra in particular did a good job slowing Smit.
“He draws the best guy every night. That’s what Riley’s capable of. He’s a shutdown kind of guy, so we had all the confidence in the world in what Riley was going to do,” Gibbons said. “I thought we’d be able to contain (Smit) and it was the other guys who we were going to have to not let hurt us, and then obviously Cade did.”
Burmania did, indeed, finishing with double his season average of 10.6 points per contest.
And his ability to pick up the slack had a lot to do with why C-F was able to get back in the win column after suffering a 60-57 loss to Omro on Saturday.
That loss followed a w 69-53 win over Markesan on Thursday and a 68-45 loss to rival Randolph, the third-ranked team in Division 5, on Monday.
“We played three games last week and you could see that our legs looked a little heavy, and that’s going to continue in this shortened season,” Derrick Smit said. “We’re going to have to fight through some nights where our legs aren’t there. But I told the guys in the locker room, ‘You’ve got to win some ugly ones sometimes.’ And we found a way to win tonight.”
That the Toppers did, due entirely to not letting the sloppy finish to the first half carry over into the second half.
“You always want to bounce back, and this is a good bounce-back win,” Smit said. “We didn’t play our best basketball game, or at least we didn’t shoot it the way that we’re capable, but I was happy with the way our guys responded at halftime.
“I thought in the first half we were sluggish and we just stood around on offense, and in the second half — starting with Cade — we moved much better and were able to come out with the win.”
Meantime for the Crusaders, while the outcome wasn’t what they had hoped for they did at the very least gain a measure of confidence—by going blow-for-blow with a top-10 team—heading into Thursday’s contest at sixth-ranked Oshkosh Lourdes in what figures to be a key game in the Trailways East Conference race.
“It’s not any easier on Thursday,” Gibbons said. “Lourdes is right at the top there — they’re going to be battling to go to state.
“We’ve got some things to clean up, but I’m confident we can hang right there with Lourdes.”
CAMBRIA-FRIESLAND 53, CWC 49
C-F .......... 20 33 — 53
CWC ........ 24 25 — 49
C-F (fgm ftm-fta pts) — Cade Burmania 7 5-10 20, Drake Burmania 6 0-0 12, Kobe Smit 4 0-0 8, Kevin Papp 0 0-3 0, Griffin Hart 3 5-6 11, Gavin Winchell 0 2-2 2. Totals: 20 12-21 53.
CWC — Riley Westra 1 5-5 7, Will Syens 2 0-0 5, Maxwell Vander Werff 6 3-4 16, Baylee Schaalma 1 0-0 2, Cade Vlietstra 4 0-0 8, Benn McKean 5 1-1 11. Totals: 19 9-10 49.
3-pointers: C-F 1 (Cade Burmania 1), CWC 2 (Syens 1, Vander Werff 1). Total fouls: CF 12, CWC 16. Fouled out: Caleb Slings (CWC).