A smooth, exciting and pleasing to the eye first half turned into a march to the foul line in the second half of Thursday's Fox Valley Association opener pitting Appleton North at Hortonville.
The Lightning and Polar Bears battled to a 32--32 deadlock at intermission, but the visitors slowly pulled away in the second 18 minutes to record their second win without a loss of the young campaign.
A pair of technical fouls on the Hortonville bench didn't help things for the Polar Bears, who had a hard time connecting from the perimeter and were outscored 30-15 from outside the three-point arc.
The two teams combined to shoot 51 free throws, with the vast majority coming in the second half.
Appleton North was led by its sensation sophomore class as point guard Will Sweeney (5-9) tossed in 17 points, sharpshooter Nathan Ramus (6-1) added 15, versatile big man Ben Zdzieblowski (6-6) pitched in 14 and steady Grant Hardy (6-3) finished with 13. In all, 75 of the 79 points scored from the Lightning came from sophomores and juniors.
"In the first half, we took a lot of quick shots," Appleton North coach Chris Kellett said. "In the second half, we took our time and got Grant Hardy going and Sean Hansen came off the bench and played a very good game."
Will Sweeney, 5-9, Soph., PG, Appleton North
Sweeney is on the small side, but his skill level is enormous. A ball-handling wizard who makes outstanding decisions, Sweeney weaved his way through the Hortonville defense to score 17 points. He also got the foul line, knocked down some three-point shots and set up his teammates with his stellar passing ability. Sweeney, who had five assists in the contest, plays exceptionally well off of two feet and always seems to be under control, which was vital to the Lightning success in Thursday's up-tempo contest. "Will took some quick shots early on, but he was able to connect in the second half and played a strong game," Kellett said.
Midway through the second half, Appleton North had 47-38 lead and had wrestled the momentum away from Hortonville. The Lightning then grabbed complete control following an out-of-bounds play. Sweeney took the ball out under his own basket. He tossed the ball in to Zdzieblowski, who caught the ball, reversed pivoted and handed the ball back to Sweeney along the baseline. Without a moment's hestitation, Sweeney went up for a three that swished through the net for a 50-37 advantage. Hortonville was unable to reduce its deficit under 10 points the rest of the way.
Ben Zdzieblowski, 6-6, Soph., F, Appleton North
The Kimberly transfer got off to a quick start, dropping a three-point basket over 6-foot-7 Drew Klobe just minutes into the game. The skilled big man showed the ability to score inside and outside, finishing with with 14 points. The addition of the 6-foot-6 Zbzieblowski to the Appleton North lineup rounds out a super-talented sophomore class at the school. "Ben anchors our five spot and allows us to play all of our other players at their natural positions," Kellett said.
"I thought our sophomores and juniors played very well. They all played last year and that helped them overcome the adversity of a big crowd and being on the road. We really enjoy playing at Hortonville. It's always a good environment here." -- Appleton North coach Chris Kellett
Junior guard Riley Mueller led Hortonville with 18 points. He had a very strong stint late in the first half where he was getting to the basket off the dribble and scoring while also knocking down very deep three-point jump shots ... Promising sophomore Ethan Joling (6-6) finished with 13 points and had several putback baskets for the Polar Bears ... Senior Drake Johnson (6-5) buried a couple of late triples and was the third Hortonville player to reach double figures with 10 ... Freshman Gavin Valeri (6-1) got some big minutes off the bench for coach Matt Hintz and finished with six points for Hortonville, which had opened its season Tuesday with a victory over Notre Dame.