Sparked by the hot shooting of junior guard Braden Crubel, River Ridge rallied past Fennimore Tuesday night and in the process, coach Tom Neises earned his 400th career victory.
Trailing by 10 points early in the second half, Crubel and Co. suddenly got hot from the field, which in turn sparked the Timberwolves' defensive intensity and activity.
The result was a resounding 61-43 triumph for the Timberwolves in a non-conference contest played before a large crowd in the River Ridge Gymnasium in Patch Grove.
Crubel (6-1), a returning first-team all-Six Rivers West Conference performer, scored 18 of his 20 points after intermission and his four second-half three-point baskets seemed to take the starch out of Fennimore, which had played well while taking a 24-17 halftime lead.
Neises, now in his third season as the Timberwolves head coach and a former standout player for West Grant High School, which merged with Bloomington High School in 1995-96 to form River Ridge, now owns a 400-195 varsity record.
The Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee had previous varsity coaching positions at Seneca, Fond du Lac St. Mary's Springs, Green Bay Notre Dame and Appleton Xavier.
Neises began his coaching career in the early 1980s as the junior high school B-team girls' coach at Stoughton High School.
"I feel blessed about the number (of wins)," he said following the contest. "It's due in part to longevity. I've had great great assistant coaches and great kids, just like I have now."
Crubel averaged 16.4 points per game as a junior when River Ridge went 22-1, but he had trouble shaking the defense of Fennimore standout junior guard Brady Larson during the first 18 minutes of play.
In the second half, particularly after Fennimore extended its lead to 10 points, Crubel started to cut harder and move more often on the offensive end of the court. He made a couple of shots and then followed with some extremely difficult field goals with a defender in his face.
"It was just moving more ... becoming more active," Crubel said. "Our offense really started to move in the second half."
In addition to Crubel's torrid shooting, River Ridge got a big lift from senior forward David Nies, a muscular 6-foot-5 player who scored in the paint and from the perimeter on the way to finishing with 17 points.
Nies, who own several scholarship offers from NCAA Division II football programs, added eight rebounds and generally dominated in the lane during the final 15 minutes of the contest.
"In the second half, we played with more fire and passion on defense," Neises said. "We forced some turnovers and that got our offense going.
"Braden Crubel had some big outside shots for us. He's a very good shooter. He struggled in the first half, but we told him to keep shooting. The key was we got the ball inside to David more in the second half, and then David did a great job getting the ball back outside to Braden."
During the first 18 minutes, senior guard Logan Drone (6-3) did an excellent job of keeping River Ridge within striking distance.
He finished the game with 13 points and six rebounds with most of his scoring coming during the first half when points were at a premium due to the excellent man-to-man defense employed by Fennimore coach Troy Larson.
"Fennimore is a good team," Neises said. "They have a lot of size. They are well coached and they took it to us last year."
River Ridge's lone loss a year ago came at the hands of Fennimore in the WIAA Division 4 regional finals. Holing the Timberwolves to a mere six points in the second half, Fennimore posted a 51-44 victory after trailing 38-27 at intermission.
Brady Larson (6-2), a smooth point guard with deep shooting range, had four three-point baskets and scored 14 points for Fennimore, which went 16-6 last season and lost to The Prairie School in a sectional semifinal contest.
Teammate Max Kenney, a 6-foot-5 senior, overcame foul trouble to score 12 points and grab seven rebounds for the Golden Eagles.