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In the 2022 state semifinal, Brillion coach Chad Shimek saw that his team was pushed around a talented and physical West Salem team.
Lesson learned. The Lions went back home, got in the weight room, and came back with a purpose, concluding with the school’s second state boys basketball championship with a tight 61-55 victory. The Lions had also won the state championship in 2012, with Shimek as an assistant coach
“We knew to get back to this level and be able to compete, we had to get tougher physically; we had to get tougher mentally,” Shimek said. “We got beat up in that game last year. We knew if we wanted to get to this point, we were going to have to be a team very similar to West Salem.”
The Lions (29-1) needed all of that experience to outlast the Panthers (28-2), right down to making the right passes, hitting free throws and grabbing rebounds in the closing seconds. The teams remained separated by no more than five points for all but the last second of the final 3:30 of the game.
The Panthers’ last best hope came after Tamarrein Henderson hit two free throws with 19 seconds remaining to pull to within 57-55. West Salem fouled, with Bennett Olson making both free throws. That started a frenzied series of plays that sealed Brillion’s title.
Olson picked up his fifth foul against the Panthers’ Carson Koepnick, who had two rare misses at the line. Peter McConkey then stole the ball for West Salem, giving Koepnick a final three-point look with two seconds left. When that fell off the rim and into Jeremy Lorenz’s hands for the last of his 11 rebounds, he was fouled and hit two free throws for the final margin.
The championship was an uncharacteristic performance for the Panthers in several other respects. They shot just 53 percent (8-of-15) at the line and 20 percent (5-of-30) from behind the arc. West Salem’s usual attacking defense also was tempered by Brillion’s ball handling.
“I think the biggest thing for us was rebounding,” Shimek said immediately after the game. “I haven’t seen the numbers yet, but I think we did a pretty good job on rebounding, too. “
In addition, the Panthers were scrambled by early foul trouble, as McConkey – who had the primary defensive assignment against Lorenz – picked up two early fouls. Koepnick had his fourth foul just four minutes into the second half and Henderson got his fourth in the final minute.
“We didn’t play the type of basketball we’ve played all year,” Panthers coach Mark Wagner said. “That was my fault as coaches; we just didn’t stay aggressive as coaches. We’re at our best when we’re pressing and trapping and doing the things we need to do. We just didn’t stay with that.
“I thought (Brillion) got really good looks early against us. When we trapped, we weren’t able to get a turnover and they were able to get the ball out of the traps. They got some of those advantages and while they didn’t necessarily take great advantage of those early, they are just too good of a basketball team to keep giving them that.”
The game was worthy of a state championship matchup between once-beaten teams, as they exchanged the lead 14 times and were tied eight other times. Each team’s inside player also stood out, as Lorenz finished with 26 points to go with his 11 rebounds, while the Panthers’ Peter Lattos finished with 20 points and nine boards.
Lorenz gave Brillion fans a scare in the final four minutes when he went off after rolling an ankle. Following a quick re-taping and a tight shoe lace-up, he was back in a minute later to guard the lane. Lorenz was also playing carefully inside, having picked up his fourth foul with 3:57 left.
“Those both kind of affected how aggressive I could be,” he said while wearing an ice pack on the ankle during the postgame media session. “In the moment in a big game like that, it didn’t really bother me too much. It hurt, but in trying to break a press or something, I’m going to run and try to get the ball.
“On defense, it was just trying to play through it and making sure I didn’t pick up that fifth (foul).”
For Brillion, Olson finished with 10 points while sophomore Owen Krepline chipped in nine points and seven rebounds, as the Lions used just six players.
For West Salem, which finished as state runnerup for the second straight year, Henderson contributed 12 points while Koepnick led the Panthers with 11 rebounds.
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