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De Pere found itself in unfamiliar territory with 13 minutes left in its WIAA Division 1 State Tournament semifinal with Kettle Moraine Friday evening at the Kohl Center in Madison.
The top seeded and undefeated Rebirds trails the Lasers 36-34 after senior Alex Koenig drilled a baseline three-point basket.
But from that point, De Pere was a bit more patient on offense, hunkered down on defense and went on a decisive 10-0 on the way to a hard-earned 55-44 victory.
De Pere (29-0) will play Arrowhead (27-2) in Saturday's Division 1 final at 8:15 p.m.
"We showed a lot of toughness, grit and character when we went down two," De Pere coach Brian Winchester said. "We never flinched."
Kettle Moraine stopped De Pere's run with a three-point play from junior Jonathan Ksobiech, but the Redbirds got a blocked shot on one end from senior Hogan Demovksy, and a big three-point shot from Demovsky on the other end to take control at 49-41 with 4:47 left.
Kettle Moraine could get no closer than six points the rest of the way.
"I thought Hogan's block and then his three-point play were big momentum plays for us," Winchester said. "You need to be able to play different styles in the playoffs. We normally like to play fast. But tonight was a grind out game. To be able to advance in the tournament, you sometimes need to win grind out games so I feel good about that."
Winchester and the big throng of De Pere fans who attended the game also felt very good about the play of 6-foot-8 junior center Will Hornseth, who finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots.
Hornseth's presence in the lane made it difficult all night for Kettle Moraine to finish in the lane.
"De Pere has been a good defensive team all year," said Kettle Moraine guard Drew Wanger, who scored nine points, nine below his average of 18.6 ppg. "Having a 6-foot-8 dude down there was pretty difficult.
"But I think we missed some opportunities. I felt I could have done a better job of setting up my teammates."
In addition to Hornseth's big night, De Pere got 15 points from senior John Kinziger and nine from sophomore Zach Kinziger. The Redbirds shot 50 percent from the field and made 14-of-16 foul shots.
Kettle Moraine, which ends its season with an 18-11 record, got nine points each from Wagner, Joah Bodden and Will Stuckey.
"I thought it was a great game on both sides," Kettle Moraine coach Trevon Hughes said. "De Pere is very well coached and runs a great system. They are led by a senior guard (John Kinziger) who set the tone early.
"But I think, for the most part, we stuck with them. The big boy (Hornseth) ruled the paint. There was a 12-point difference in the paint."
The physicality of the Arrowhead basketball team was just too much for Neenah to overcome as the Warhawks advanced to the WIAA Division 1 state-championship game for the first time since winning it all in 2010 with a 73-61 triumph over the defending-champion Rockets.
The frontline play of football stars Jace Gilbert (6-5) and Garrett Sexton (6-6), along with the strong play of basketball stars Mac Wrecke (6-5) and Bennett Basich (6-4), made it difficult for Neenah to finish plays near the basket or keep Arrowhead from getting second-chance points. Arrowhead posted a 32-24 edge in rebounding with Gilbert leading the way with 11 caroms, including eight on offense.
"The are more physical than us," Neenah coach Lee Rabas said. "There was one possession in the second half where Gilbert had three offensive rebounds."
Arrowhead improved to 27-2 and will face an undefeated De Pere squad (29-0) in the final game of the 2022-23 high-school season Saturday evening.
The Warhawks and Redbirds met three times over the course of last summer with De Pere winning two of those encounters.
"We know we have to play an A-plus game and I hope De Pere plays an A-plus game, too," Arrowhead coach Craig Haase said. "They are extremely long and extremely physical. Defense will be the name of the game."
Arrowhead established a school-record for most wins in a season with the win over Neenah. The Warhawks led 27-24 at intermission, but Neenah kept within striking distance in the second half until Basich came up with a pair of steals and breakaway layups with under four minutes to go.
"In the first half, we had some jitters and didn't share the ball," Haase said. "In the second half, we started to share the ball and you saw that we have multiple weapons."
Basich led the way for Arrowhead with 19 points while Wrecke added 17 and senior Austin Villarreal (6-0) added 15.
Wrecke went over 2,000 points early in the second half and now has 2,015 for his four-year career.
Neenah, which made its first back-to-back appearances at the state tournament since 1977 and 1978, was led by senior Jackson Schlomann (6-2) with 19.
Senior Cal Klesmit (6-2), who will join Wrecke in the Green Bay program in the fall, battled foul trouble for much of the contest and finished with 14 points.
Neenah's second-leading scorer, junior Brady Corso (6-1), was limited to just five points.
"Arrowhead did a good job of chasing Brady around," Rabas said. "We just didn't get him many good looks."
Neenah trailed big early, falling behind 13-3 before settling down and putting the outcome in question until Basich came up with his steals and layups.
"A few more layups go in and we make a few more threes and maybe it would have been different," said Rabas, whose team finished the campaign with an 18-11 record.
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