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De Pere completes perfect season with Division 1 title against Arrowhead

03/19/2023, 11:45am CDT
By Dick Knapinski

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

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There are no more check boxes to complete for De Pere.

Conference title? Check. Tournament season? Deep run made. State championship? First since 1934 for the Redbirds. Unbeaten? That, too, as De Pere became the first Wisconsin boys team to win 30 games in a single season after beating Arrowhead 69-49 in the WIAA Division 1 championship game at the Kohl Center.

A tight first-half battle turned into a Redbirds celebration as they shot 70 percent in the second half (14-of-20) and clamped down defensively against the Warhawks (27-3).

“We’ve had this game on repeat in some ways,” De Pere coach Brian Winchester said of the Redbirds’ season. “The first half might be a little bit close, then the second half we come out with a ton of energy and kind of blitz teams.”

De Pere rolled out of halftime with a 12-3 run to take a 34-23 lead with 15:09 remaining. Arrowhead made a final push with its own 12-2 spurt to close to 36-35 on Austin Villarreal’s three-point play, but the Redbirds pushed the lead back out to 12 less than four minutes later to take control.

It was a complete flip from a first half where De Pere struggled to take a 22-20 lead at the break. The Redbirds shot just 38 percent from the field, three-of-10 from behind the arc, and made just three of eight free throw tries.

“At the end of the first half we went with a set with kind of a flat ball screen,” Winchester said. “Zach (Kinziger) got off it about a minute left. We went back to it after we got the tie-up timeout (with 12 seconds left in the half). We didn’t score on it, but that looked like something that could get us going.”

In addition, De Pere’s defense stifled the Warhawks, who were in their first state title game since 2017 and seeking their first championship since 2010. Arrowhead shot just 35 percent in the second half, including just two-of-five on three-pointers.

“They are phenomenally good at being in a stance,” Arrowhead coach Craig Haase said of the Redbirds’ defense. “It sounds really simple, but they are really good at making sure you can’t get by them. The way we play, where we like to drive and kick, made it difficult to get our actions going, because they’re always in a stance.”

John Kinziger, who shared the state’s Mr. Basketball honors with Milan Momcilovic of Division 2 champion Pewaukee, led De Pere with 24 points, 16 of them in the second half. His sophomore brother Zach added 19 points while Will Hornseth took control of the middle with 17 points and 11 rebounds. The three combined for 44 of De Pere’s 47 second-half points.

“When we were up 20 and the subs were coming in, it was kind of surreal for me,” said John Kinziger of the final minute of the game. “I didn’t know how to react, I didn’t how to feel.”

For Arrowhead, senior Mac Wrecke led the way with 18 points. Bennett Basich added 11 points, while Garrett Sexton grabbed seven rebounds coming off the bench as the Warhawks inside players battled foul trouble throughout the night.

De Pere’s unbeaten state championship season is the first for a state team since Xavier won the Division 3 title in 2017 and the first for a Division 1 school since Stevens Point’s second of three straight state championships in 2016. It also brought a mix of joy and relief for Winchester, who realized the high expectations his team carried this year.

“Dealing with that pressure, it’s challenging,” he said. “You feel it, whether you want to admit to it or not. I certainly felt it a little bit coming into this game. Not so much to go 30-0, but to win a state championship. … But these guys responded and I had a ton of confidence in them, and I can’t say enough about our team tonight.”

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