Making a road run to regional glory

Behind senior leaders, Port upsets two higher seeds to win hardware
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

One night after beating a higher seed on the road and getting over the West Bend East hump, the Port Washington High School boys couldn’t do it again in another hostile basketball environment, could it?

The Pirates could and did.

Senior Adam Baierl came up with two clutch steals that led to a layup and a pair of free throws, and junior Tamai McKoy-Jackson nailed two free throws that helped the No. 7-seeded Pirates put away No.

3-seeded Plymouth and seal a Division 2 regional championship, 59-54, on Saturday night.

The Panthers took a 54-50 lead with three and a half minutes to play, but Evan Lilly hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to one with 2:18 left.

Baierl  made a steal and hit a shot with 1:41 to play to give the Pirates a 55-54 lead they would never relinquish.

The Pirates’ defense forced the Panthers into an over-and-back violation, and the Panthers soon had to start fouling to get back in the game.

The Pirates missed the front end of a bonus, and the Panthers grabbed the rebound. After two Port fouls, the Panthers got careless with the ball and Baierl made another steal with less than 30 seconds to play.

Plymouth called a 30-second timeout before Baierl went to the line, and he drained both shots to give the Pirates a 57-54 lead with 18.4 seconds left.

Port fouled with 11.6 seconds to play, but a Panther missed the front end of a bonus and the Pirates grabbed the rebound.

McKoy-Jackson was fouled with 7.7 seconds to go, and he drained both free throws for the final points of the game.

Baierl’s second steal, while an enormous play, wasn’t unexpected, according to coach Brian Hebein.

“Huge, huge, huge, but he’s been doing that all year,” he said. “He’s had six games this year where he’s had six steals. We’ve come to expect that from him.”

Baierl had 72 steals on the year coming into Saturday, already seven more than the previous single-season record of 65 by Port legend and former University of Wisconsin player Josh Gasser.

 Baierl only went 3-for-6 on free throws on the night, but he made the ones when they counted the most.

“I was struggling a little bit in the beginning but after halftime I took some free throws coming out. I locked in and made it work,” he said.

When McKoy-Jackson came to the line with a chance to put the game away, he took full advantage.

“It was nerve-wracking, the whole crowd was screaming. But I had to put the game away. My teammates did a good job, getting a couple of steals, fast breaks, knocking down free throws,” he said.

Baierl scored 17 points and Evan Lilly had 19, including going 5-for-7 on three-pointers. Nolan Mueller had nine and McKoy-Jackson seven, including going 4-for-4 on free throws. Marcus Schmit had six.

For senior Jake Lippe, who battled hard on defense and for rebounds despite a bad wrist, the victory was revenge from a first-round football game last fall. Lippe was tackled half a yard short on a two-point conversion with seconds left that would have won the game.

“A lot sweeter because of football. A lot,” Lippe said among hugs from friends and fans.

“It’s amazing,” senior Nolan Mueller said. “Being put as a 7 seed when we know we’re such a better team. We’ve worked hard over the last four years and now we’ve got the plaque.”

Lilly, a junior, is thankful for the veteran leadership.

“With all these seniors around me, they’ve been great leaders. I’m so happy for those guys,” he said.

For the Panthers, Cole Booth had 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting, including going 4-for-9 on three-pointers. He was the focus of the Pirates’ defense.

“He’s a heck of a player, man. For us to shut him down at the end was huge. We rotated really well on their skips and flares,” Hebein said.

The contest was tight throughout, with the Panthers taking a 42-35 lead in the second half before the Pirates closed the gap in a hostile environment.

Some of the Pirates’ confidence came from the night before in West Bend.

Port Washington 68, West Bend East 51

After losing twice during the season to their North Shore Conference opponent, a third time would be the charm for the Pirates.

Halfway into the first half, the Pirates took a lead over the Suns and never looked back.

The Suns, who like to shoot three-pointers, this time went cold.

T.J. Simpson was the player the Pirates needed to limit.

“When I looked back statistically, he was the single player who scored the most points against us in conference this year — 22.5 per game. He’s hurt us bad, more so than any Nicolet player, anybody,” Hebein said.

Simpson was held to a quiet 18 points on 8-for-18 shooting. Dylan Polster and Keghan Tighe each scored 10.

Lilly led the Pirates with 23 points, including going 5-for-7 on three-pointers.

Baierl added 16. Brandon Kelling had 10 and Mueller had seven.

“We tried locking every single one of them down, especially Simpson and Polster — we know they can shoot it,” Schmit said.

The Pirates held a 29-19 halftime lead and never had less than an 11-point lead the rest of the way. As soon as the Suns would try to make a run, a Pirate had the answer.

“We did a really good job communicating on defense. They have an offense where it’s just constantly moving and you’ve always got to be talking. We did a good job switching,” Mueller said.

Lippe cited another factor.

“We just outhustled them tonight. That’s the main thing. And our shots were falling,” he said.

Hebein was impressed with his team’s performance.

“Our guys executed the game plan beautifully. They knew when we were supposed to switch. They knew when we were not supposed to switch. They just worked their tales off tonight. We outworked them and we handled their pressure. We got easy shots off of their pressure,” he said.

Port Washington 57, Cedarburg 52

AThe Pirates barely got out of the first round of the playoffs, beating Cedarburg at home on Feb. 26. It was their third win over the Bulldogs this season.

Down one point late, Baierl made a shot and got fouled, hit the free throw and then made another basket. He scored 14 points.

“He’s a captain, senior leader. He stepped up when it mattered,” Hebein said.

Lippe and Lilly each scored 11, and Schmit and Mueller each had nine.

Drew Biber scored 15 for Cedarburg, and Jake Leair had 11.

The Pirates next face nationally ranked NSC opponent Nicolet in a sectional semifinal at Brown Deer High School at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Knights swept the season series against Port.

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