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D3 Semi-Final Notes: Brillion, West Salem advance, will meet for state title

03/16/2023, 7:00pm CDT
By Dick Knapinski

WSN Basketball Playoff Coverage presented by the Buckle Up Phone Down Pledge

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West Salem junior Tamarrein Henderson had a big game to help lift the Panthers to a win over Milwaukee Academy of Science

The Panthers (28-1), the state’s top-ranked Division 3 team, saw their 16-point halftime lead cut to five just three minutes into the second half, but they hit the gas to end the Novas’ season. West Salem’s total was just three points short of the Division 3 single-game scoring record set by Martin Luther in 2019.

West Salem accomplished that despite having standout forward Peter Lattos saddled with foul trouble for much of the game, plus an ankle injury that eliminated starter Brennan Kennedy just seven minutes into the first half. Kennedy did not return to the game on Thursday.

“When Peter got that third foul, it was concerning,” West Salem coach Mark Wagner said of Lattos’ third foul with 9:06 left in the first half. “And with (Kennedy) going down, we were getting down there. But again, it’s been next man up all year and these guys do a great job when their name is called.”

Those stepping into the gap included Tamarrein Henderson, who finished with a game-high 25 points and nine rebounds, and forward Brett McConkey, who had 18 points and 14 rebounds. That group expanded the Panthers’ lead from 10 to as many as 18 in the first half.

The Novas (18-7), meanwhile, had to climb out of a 10-0 hole to start the game before they mounted the second-half comeback. Sophomore Devin Brown led the way with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while fellow soph Jamarion Bateman added 19 points.

“We had to get the boys to understand, ‘Let’s just play our game and get a little more physical,’” Novas coach Agape Keys said of the second-half comeback. “The way they were playing and denying us topside like they did, it may have looked like we were open but we really had to get into them to get our stuff open.”

West Salem also controlled the boards, with a 49-33 rebounding advantage, and shot 50 percent (33-of-66) from the field.

Brillion narrowly hung on to defeat Lakeside Lutheran in a Division 3 semi-final

It wasn’t pretty, but the Brillion Lions got back to where they wanted to be: a rematch with West Salem, this time with a WIAA Division 3 state championship on the line.

It came only after a few final heart-stopping moments in the Lions’ semifinal win in Thursday’s semifinals at the Kohl Center in Madison. The grind-out victory finally ended after the steal of Brillion’s long inbounds pass by the Warriors’ Luke Birkholz, a frenzied battle for control of the ball and a final steal by the Lions’ Bennett Olson. It set up a return engagement with West Salem, which beat the Lions in the 2022 Division 3 semifinals.

It appeared that Brillion (28-1) had things under control when Jeremy Lorenz hit two free throws for a 57-53 lead with 37 seconds left. Birkholz drew a foul on a three-point attempt, however, and hit two of three free throws with 12 seconds remaining to make it 57-55.

The Lions’ Parker Braun then attempted a court-long inbounds pass – a plan that had worked earlier against the Warriors – but this time Birkholz stole the ball and brought it back up court. As he headed toward the sideline, the Lions’ defense collapsed on him and Olson tapped the ball into the backcourt as time expired.

“You leave it up to the guys, like, ‘Hey, here are some options,’ and obviously we wanted the ball in Jeremy’s hands at the end,” Brillion coach Chad Shimek said. “Parker saw an opportunity and he took it, and it worked out well for us.”

It was the fitting conclusion to game where neither team could build more than a six-point lead and the lead changed 10 times. Brillion, which is ranked second in the Division 3 poll, had an opportunity to build a bigger halftime lead, but a missed free throw followed by two Trey Lauber free throws for Lakeside Lutheran (25-4) cut the Lions lead to 24-20 at the half.

The Warriors also clamped down on Brillion standout Jeremy Lorenz, who finished with 25 rebounds, 11 rebounds, and six blocks, but was frustrated at times during the game by Lakeside Lutheran’s double teams.

“We saw that teams would go get him early (with double teams) and he’d pass out of it for knockdown threes or something on the weak side,” Warriors coach Todd Jahns said. “Our strategy was to defend him with a guy who had some length and then wait until he committed to scoring before we’d go double him.”

Birkholz, meanwhile, nearly willed the Warriors into the championship game, ending his prep career with an 18-point, 12-rebound, six-steal performance despite running into early foul trouble. Lauber added 16 points.

The teams also combined for just 25 percent (7-of-28) shooting on three-pointers, with Brillion’s Olson and Lauber from Lakeside Lutheran the only players with more than one 3-pointer.

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