It was far from the cakewalk Almond-Bancroft enjoyed on its home court a month ago when the Falcons beat Pacelli 69-30, but in the end Thursday's rematch in Stevens Point yielded a third conference title in four years for coach Curt Lamb's squad.
Almond-Bancroft made some defensive stops and some foul shots over the last minute of the game, and played through some stiff challenges from Pacelli to notch a 67-61 triumph, its 19th in 20 outings this season.
Ranked third among WIAA Division 5 schools in this week's WSN Coaches Poll, Almond-Bancroft got 21 points from junior center Ayden Phillips (6-7) and 18 from senior guard TJ Lamb (6-3) to move to 11-0 in the Central Wisconsin South Conference. Pacelli dropped two games back in second place and was eliminated from championship contention.
"We kept our poise and battled through a tough game," said Curt Lamb, in his 25th season as the head coach at Almond-Bancroft. "We weren't able to do what we normally do with Ayden, they did a nice job of taking him away. But we got some big threes from Emmitt Stiles and Clarence Pratt to help us."
TJ Lamb, 6-3, Sr., PG, Almond-Bancroft
The son of the Falcons' head coach made some huge plays for his team on both ends of the court. He had all three of his three-point baskets and 13 points before halftime to help the Falcons enter the locker room with a 35-30 advantage. He then made two huge free throws in a bonus situation down the stretch to help the Falcons hold off Pacelli. Defensively, Lamb used his high basketball IQ and length to some several deflections and steals. "TJ's got a knack on defense for causing issues for the opponent," his father and coach said. "And he can take some changes on defense because he has the aircraft carrier behind him in Phillips." A four-year varsity performer and returning first-team all-league pick, Lamb is averaging 17.0 ppg and 7.1 apg for the Falcons.
Andrew Van Order of Pacelli entered the game with 7:40 left and his team trailing by three points. The senior guard hit a top-of-the-key three to tie things up at 50, and then came up with a loose ball on the other end as Pacelli seemed to have gained momentum of the contest. However, Van Order's pass while bringing the ball up the floor was tipped and stolen by Brody Dernbach, who then made a nice pass to a cutting Lamb. Lamb scored, was fouled by Van Order and then completed the three-point play to give the Falcons a 53-50 advantage. Van Order fouled out on the play and his presence was missed down the stretch as he had made all five of his field-goal attempts, including three three-point shots.
Emmitt Stiles, 5-11, Soph., G, Almond-Bancroft
Opposing coaches all know about the "Big Three" at Almond-Bancroft as Dernbach, Lamb and Phillips are multi-year varsity performers who each average in double figures. But against a Pacelli team that had four players finish in double-scoring figures, the Falcons needed a fourth player to step up and provide some offense. Enter Stiles, who came off the bench to drill three three-point baskets and score 11 points. Stiles came into the contest with four made triples on the entire season. "We had some guys really step up tonight," coach Lamb said. "Emmitt, Brody, Clarence (Pratt) and Shane (Klismith) all played key roles. That's why we are where we are with our record."
"We try to pound the ball into Ayden as much as we can in every game. Pacelli had two big guys (Zach Jeidy and Mitchell Grover) tonight who battled him in the post and that made a difference. In our last game with Pacelli, they had just one big guy and when he got tired they had nobody to take his spot." -- Almond-Bancroft coach Curt Lamb
Van Order and junior wing Cam Schurk finished with 13 points each to lead Pacelli ... Senior guard Logan Mayer also had a strong outing with 12 points ... The biggest surprise for Pacelli might have been the play of Jeidy and Grover. Both 6-foot-6 juniors were able to make things difficult for Phillips in the post, and both also contributed offensively with Jeidy scoring 10 points and Grover adding four ... Pacelli, now 14-6, seems to have recovered after losing its star player, Jayden Awe, to a season-ending injury in December. Awe then opted to transfer to Stevens Point High School at the start of the second semester ... Pacelli and Almond-Bancroft could meet for a third time in the WIAA playoffs as both schools are part of the upper half of Sectional 2.