Two teams expected to contend for conference championships squared off on the opening night of the high school basketball season Tuesday with host Plymouth holding off a late rally by Valders to notch a 73-67 victory.
Plymouth, of the East Central Conference, led Valders, of the Eastern Wisconsin Conference, by seven-to-12 points for much of the second half after taking a 35-27 lead at intermission.
But Valders got back-to-back three-point baskets from skilled sophomore William Sieracki to cut the deficit to 68-65 with 54 seconds left.
However, poised Plymouth freshman Kayden Schultz made three-of-four free throws in the closing minute to secure the Panthers' triumph.
Plymouth junior Jack Jacquat, an improving 6-foot-7 forward, turned in an outstanding performance for the Panthers, scoring a career-best 23 points while also hauling down nine rebounds and limiting Valders senior Jackson Olson (6-6) to 12 points.
Jacquat made nine-of-12 field-goal tries, three-of-four foul shots and both of his three-point attempts. He also handed out four assists.
"Jack is getting increasingly coordinated," Plymouth coach Tim Schultz said. "The mental aspect of his game has improved. He's starting to see things better."
Plymouth freshman Kayden Schultz (6-2) also had a strong outing in his first varsity contest.
The son of Tim Schultz, Kayden finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. His first made field goal as a varsity player was a three-point basket in the first half.
Schultz's calm demeanor, ability to change direction with the ball and stellar pass-ahead court vision were impressive. One of the state's better class of 2026 backcourt prospects, Schultz came off the bench for the Panthers, but was in the game at crunch time and delivered, making his big free throws with under a minute left.
"Kayden has always carried himself that way," coach Schultz said of his son's ability to seize the big moment. "He seeks that out. Even though he's just a freshman, he's mature as a player."
Ten of the 11 players who saw action for Plymouth scored, with junior Jordan Schmitt scoring 11 points and making some huge backdoor cuts for layups in the second half.
Senior guard Dylon Sass (5-10) had eight points, but missed the second half due to a cut to his mouth. Junior Marco Troka (6-2) finished well around the hoop in the first half and finished with seven points for the Panthers.
"We moved a lot of guys in and out of the lineup," coach Schultz said. "We have a lot of guys of even ability and athleticism. They've been really getting after each other in practice. Tonight, everybody got their fingers wet a little bit. We've got depth and we have guys who can shoot."
It appeared Plymouth would coast to the finish line for most of the second half of Tuesday's contest.
But Valders had other ideas.
Thanks in large part to the leadership and toughness of senior Cole Hove and the shooting of Sieracki, the Vikings had a chance to steal the victory.
Sieracki, who finished with 10 points, made the second of his consecutive three-point shots with just under a minute left to reduce the Vikings' deficit to just 68-65.
With 48 ticks left, Kayden Schultz was fouled. He made the first free throw to give Plymouth a 69-65 lead, but when he missed the second shot, the Panthers grabbed the offensive rebound.
Fouled again, this time Schultz made both of his charity tosses to give Plymouth a six-point lead and all but end the game.
"It was good to battle back after digging ourselves a hole and giving them too many second chances," Valders coach Trevor Schwoerer said. "They did kind of wear us down a bit with their pressure and the number of players they used. I think that contributed to some of the mental lapses we had late in the game, including giving up that offensive rebound on the missed free throw."
Hove led Valders with 21 points, scoring with his strength going to the basket, from the foul line and from outside the three-point arc. He averaged 14.9 points and 8.6 rebounds as a junior on the way to earning first-team all-league honors.
"Cole is a load when he gets downhill," Schwoerer said. "The biggest thing for him is to be patient when he gets the ball so he isn't forcing things."
Olson, who averaged 13.9 points and 7.6 rebounds last season, had a hard time connecting on his perimeter shot, scoring all of his points either in the lane or from the free-throw line.