Never-say-die Grafton boys embrace underdog role on way to eye-opening regional title
Tournament championships in boysâ€™ basketball have been a rare commodity at Grafton High School the past few years.
Make that during the current millennium.
Ending an 19-year drought, the Black Hawks stormed their way to a WIAA Division 2 regional title last Saturday by upsetting host Waupun, 56-51.
After taking a 10-point lead into halftime, Grafton shook off a shaky third quarter to secure the crown â€” their first in boysâ€™ hoops since 1994.
â€śItâ€™s really amazing. Our guys are playing with a lot of confidence,â€ť said Hawks coach Bob Maronde, whose team continued a late-season roll by notching its fourth straight win.
â€śRight now, theyâ€™re believing that they can beat any team anywhere.â€ť
After last weekend, Grafton has good reason to buy into that credo. The sixth-seeded Hawks opened some eyes by defeating No. 3 Nicolet in a quarterfinal game Friday to set the stage for a bigger road win the next night.
Second-seeded Waupun (18-6) entered the title game as a solid favorite against a Hawks team that was only 8-14 during the regular season.
But Grafton showed it meant business by forcing the Warriors into turnovers on their first three possessions. Senior forward Scotty Tylerâ€™s six points helped the Hawks build a 13-8 lead by the end of the opening quarter.
Junior Caleb Keshemberg continued the surge with 10 points in the second period, including a pair of three-point baskets. The margin grew to 32-22 by halftime.
â€śWe came out and played really, really well,â€ť Maronde said. â€śIt started with our defense. We thought that pressing them might cause some problems because we hadnâ€™t seen many teams doing that against them.
â€śWe forced some turnovers that got us going.â€ť
Guard Mason Domask kept Waupun close with a one-man scoring show. After scoring 10 of his game-high 25 points in the first half, the sophomore added eight in the third period.
Domaskâ€™s heroics helped the Warriors rally to take a brief one-point lead early in the second half. Struggling against Waupunâ€™s diamond-and-one defense, Grafton was outscored, 13-5, in the third quarter.
But the Hawks reasserted themselves with patient offense. After holding the ball for 35 seconds, Grafton regained the lead on a three-point basket by Mitchell Kurz and never trailed again.
In the fourth quarter, free-throw success helped the Hawks preserve the lead. Keshemberg, who scored a team-high 22 points, was 5-for-6 at the line in the final period, and Tyler was 3-for-6.
Tyler finished with 15 points.
â€śIt was a great win. Our defense really set the tone for us,â€ť Maronde said.
â€śDomask scored a lot of points, but he had to take a lot of shots to do it. We put Choo Weisflog on him, and he made him work for everything.â€ť
The Warriorsâ€™ next two best players, forwards Brant Nickel and Cody Zimmerman, combined for just 11 points in the face of Graftonâ€™s front-line defense.
The win sent the Hawks into sectional play for the first time since the 1993-94 season. That was also the last season in which they reached a state tournament.
On Friday, they will face top-seeded Slinger in a 7 p.m. sectional semifinal at Sheboygan South High School. The teams met early this season, with Slinger winning, 50-47, on Nov. 24.
Fridayâ€™s winner will face the winner of a semifinal between Pulaski and Seymour for the sectional title at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Fond du Lac.
â€śItâ€™s exciting. The kids are playing so well right now and having a ball,â€ť said Maronde, who has overseen the turnaround of a long-struggling boysâ€™ team after a successful run with a girlsâ€™ program that won two state titles.
â€śChange is not easy for anyone, players or coaches. But a lot of credit goes to these guys for buying into a new system.
â€śAnd they have really bought into it.â€ť
Grafton 56, Nicolet 50
The third time was certainly the charm for the Hawks, who avenged two North Shore Conference losses with a regional road win.
After trailing, 19-17, at the end of the first quarter, Grafton controlled the next two periods and built a 47-37 lead.
Although the Knights stayed within striking distance in the fourth quarter, they never got closer than five points.
A pair of free throws by Beau Benzschawel in the final minute gave Grafton a 54-47 lead and helped seal the victory.
â€śWe didnâ€™t back down. We did everything we had to to win,â€ť said Maronde, who cited his teamâ€™s ability to handle Nicoletâ€™s pressure defense as a key.
Tyler led the Hawks with 17 points, and Benzschawel added 16.
Tyler Millerâ€™s 15 points led Nicolet, which also got 13 from Eugene Bonner and 11 from Greg Pigg.
Nicolet won the teamâ€™ two previous meetings this season handily, 58-41 and 66-48.
Image Information: COACH BOB MARONDE has led the sideline charge for a Grafton boysâ€™ basketball team that has shown improvement throughout the season. Last Saturday, the Black Hawksâ€™ late-season surge continued when they upset second-seeded Waupun to win a WIAA Division 2 regional title and advance to the sectional level for the first time since 1994. Photo by Sam Arendt