STEVENS POINT -- Wisconsin Dells knew the larger Stratford Tigers would be a hard to handle in close to the basket, so they moved the battle to the outside.
From the perimeter, the Chiefs turned to their hot outside shooting, and that proved to be the difference maker. Wisconsin Dells made a dozen 3-pointers, including four from senior Dylan Anchor, who had a team-high 19 points, leading his team to a 70-64 victory over Stratford in a Division 3 sectional semifinal game at Stevens Point Area Senior High on Thursday night.
With the win, Wisconsin Dells (20-5) advances to face Northwestern (20-5) in the sectional final on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Marshfield.
Wisconsin Dells entered the game against the undefeated Tigers with a big size disadvantage. The 6-foot-3 Anchor was mostly defended by Stratford 6-foot-6 junior Ben Barten, who has committed to play football at the University of Wisconsin, and Anchor was able to take advantage of the match-up from the outside.
“Dylan Anchor probably was the biggest difference,” Wisconsin Dells coach Brad Rohling said. “We weren’t going to get much posting Dylan up, but we were able to bring him away from the basket. It’s a real good plan if you make those shots, and Dylan made the shots.”
Wisconsin Dells took the lead for good when Anchor went on a personal 5-0 run, draining a 3-pointer and then scoring on a putback, to give the Chiefs a 45-41 lead with 12 minutes remaining. Anchor would make another 3-pointer, this time with 4:15 to play, giving his team a 59-52 lead.
Anchor, who scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half, said “playing with confidence” was the key for him, while the Chiefs’ defensive pressure seemed to bother the Tigers most of the night.
“I think we just brought the intensity. They never really seen our type of pressure,” Anchor said. “I think that played a big factor, and also, just the way we moved the ball.”
Stratford (24-1) would not go away though, as a 3-point play by junior Vaughn Breit, who had a game-high 22 points, cut the Dells lead to 61-59 with 2:21 to play. The Chiefs answered with a putback bucket by junior Riley Eck, who had 14 points, and then two free throws from Anchor to make it 65-59 with 1:12 left.
Stratford would cut it to 65-60 when Breit made one of two free throws with 57.7 seconds to go, but the Chiefs would give the ball right back to the Tigers when they were unable to inbounds the ball and were called for a five-second violation with 50.8 seconds left. The turnover didn’t end up costing Wisconsin Dells though, as Stratford gave the ball back when a player stepped out of bounds with 31.8 seconds to go.
A free throw by junior Bryson Funmaker, who finished with 12 points, would give the Chiefs a 66-60 lead with 28.7 seconds left, but the Tigers would get a pair of free throws from senior Okley Wrensch at the other end to make it 66-62 with 27.7 seconds remaining.
After Wisconsin Dells senior Dylan Musiedlak made one of two free throws to make it 67-62 with 26.1 seconds left, the Tigers would make it one-possession game with a putback bucket from Wrensch with 16.2 seconds to go.
Musiedlak would again go to the free throw line with 15.3 seconds left, and needing to make one of two to make it a two-possession game, Musiedlak missed the first, but made the second to make it 68-64.
Rohling gave credit to Musiedlak for making two big free throws in the final minute to help tame the Tigers.
“He’s a kid that battled all year, a senior that got a chance to be at the free throw line in a sectional semifinal to put us up four. I’m really proud of him,” Rohling said. “He’s had some ups and downs. Some games he plays a ton, others not so much, but his attitude has been good the whole year. He’s going to compete. We know that.”
Stratford’s last hope ended up being a missed 3-pointer from junior Chandler Schmidt with about 7 seconds left, and Wisconsin Dells would rebound the miss before Funmaker’s two free throws in the final seconds sealed the win.
Stratford was able to match Wisconsin Dells from the outside early on. The Tigers made four 3-pointers in the first half, including one by junior Teddy Redman that gave Stratford a 27-22 lead with 3:45 left in the half. Those 3-pointers went away for Stratford, as it made only one shot from behind the arc in the second half.
“I think we wore them down a bit in the second half. They’re big guys,” Rohling said. “We like to press and run. Whatever the score, our kids are going to compete. I thought that was a big difference. In the second half, their 3s weren’t going in and we kept battling on rebounds.”
Anchor said the Chiefs also wanted to prove they could be the team to beat the Tigers this season.
“We definitely came in with a chip on our shoulder,” Anchor said. “We knew they were undefeated and we wanted to hang them with a loss. We knew they were big and physical, but we just wanted to hand it to them.”
Now the Chiefs will get ready for Saturday’s sectional final against Northwestern, who advanced with a 66-46 victory over St. Croix Central on Thursday.
This is the second straight season Wisconsin Dells will play in a sectional final. Last year the Chiefs lost 86-76 to eventual Division 3 state champion Prescott in the sectional finals. Wisconsin Dells will be trying to advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2007.
Rohling said the key to Saturday’s game will be to continue playing as a team.
“We don’t need anybody to get 20 (points) a game. We don’t have to say ‘get whoever open, we need them to score 20,’” Rohling said. “Whatever they do, we just react to that. If we’re open, we shoot it, anybody on the floor. We’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
Wisconsin Dells 29 41 — 70
Stratford 29 35 — 64
WISCONSIN DELLS — Musiedlak 0 2-4 2, Anchor 6 3-4 19, Hirst 2 1-2 5, Funmaker 3 3-6 12, Eck 6 0-0 14, Millard 3 1-2 10, Nevar 3 2-2 8. Totals 23 12-20 70.
STRATFORD — Redman 1 0-0 3, Wrensch 1 2-3 4, Danen 1 0-0 2, Schmidt 2 5-7 11, Breit 10 2-5 22, Heidmann 2 3-7 7, Barten 6 3-4 15. Totals 23 13-22 64.
3-point goals — WD 12 (Anchor 4, Funmaker 3, Eck 2, Millard 3), 5 (Redman 1, Schmidt 2Heidmann 2). Total fouls — WD 17, 19. Fouled out — Hirst, Schmidt.