Absence of injured Gasser doesn‘t keep Port boys from first league crown since 1974
Josh or no Josh, the Port Washington boys’ basketball team wasn’t about to let another title shot slip away.
Overcoming a slow start and the absence of their best player, the host Pirates pounded out a 59-39 win over Grafton on Feb. 25 that gave them a share of the North Shore Conference championship.
The victory — achieved while standout guard Josh Gasser was sidelined with an ankle injury — also earned the Pirates a special footnote in their school’s sports history. It gave Port its first conference title in boys’ basketball since 1974.
“I’m very proud of these guys and what they accomplished this season,” said Port coach John Bunyan, whose team and Germantown both finished with first-place records of 10-4.
“There were a lot of expectations this year, and they’ve handled it really well. It’s a really special achievement that means a lot to the program and the school.”
After a five-point loss at Homestead on Feb. 19 cost them a chance at an outright league title, the Pirates focused on bouncing back. They tuned up for their game against winless Grafton with a nonconference victory, only to find out Gasser
wouldn’t be able to play in the regular-season finale.
The 6-foot-4-inch senior — who leads the Pirates in scoring, rebounding and assists — sprained his left ankle during a drill in practice Feb. 24 and had to watch from the sideline as his teammates took care of Grafton. With the help of crutches,
Gasser joined the post-game celebration, which included a ceremonial cutting down of the nets.
Gasser said afterward that he hopes to be ready to play this Thursday, when the Pirates open WIAA Division 2 tournament play.
“I really wanted to be out there, but I couldn’t go. It’s pretty bad right now,” said Gasser, who hurt the same ankle he injured during an AAU game last summer — a mishap that forced him to miss the entire football season.
“I’m just glad that my teammates went out there and clinched it. Everyone has worked really hard for this, and it feels great to win it.”
The Pirates started the night as a heavy favorite against a hustling but overmatched Grafton team. The Black Hawks, whose winless regular season included an 0-14 league record, stayed close for most of a ragged first half.
After leading by only 9-6 after one period, Port built a 22-10 lead in the second quarter. However a late Grafton run, capped by a three-point basket from Joey Ritonia, cut the margin to 24-17 by halftime.
“Our kids played hard. Port wouldn’t have Gasser, but we still knew it would be a tough game,” Grafton coach Kevin McKenna said. “It was only a seven-point game at halftime, and we stayed close most of the way.”
The Pirates steadily pulled away in the second half. Forwards Cory Steinmetz and Shane Kennedy each scored six points during a third-quarter run that gave Port a 39-24 lead entering the final period.
When the same duo combined for the first six points of the fourth quarter, the Pirates owned a 45-24 edge, paving the way for extended playing time by reserves.
Steinmetz, who finished with a game-high 16 points, said his team didn’t change its approach with Gasser sidelined.
“We still ran the same offense and defense we always do. The rest of us just had to step up with him out,” Steinmetz said.
Stepping up meant nine Port players contributing offensively. In addition to Steinmetz’s total, the Pirates got 15 points from Kennedy and 11 from center Zach Schultz.
Grafton was led by freshman Scotty Tyler with eight points.
“Our kids gave it everything they had, which is what they’ve done all season,” McKenna said.
Port (18-4 overall) and Grafton (0-22) both moved into WIAA Division 2 tournament play this week (see related story).
Milwaukee Lifelong Learning 56, Grafton 54 (OT)
The long-distance shooting heroics of Isaiah Jefferson kept the host Hawks from scoring their first win of the season in a nonconference game Feb. 24.
After hitting a three-point shot at the end of regulation to force overtime, Jefferson sank a game-winning three at the final horn. He finished with a game-high 24 points, including six baskets from behind the arc.
“It was torture,” McKenna said. “We had the game won twice, and both times a shot at the buzzer took it away.”
Grafton got off to a strong start and held a 25-20 lead at halftime. However, Lifelong Learning rallied in the third quarter and took a 37-33 edge into the final period.
The Hawks fought back and held a 48-45 lead in the closing minute before Jefferson came to the rescue the first time. In the overtime, Grafton led, 54-53, before the game-winner.
Ritonia scored a career-high 19 points to pace the Hawks, who also got 12 from Matt Chay.
The loss was the Hawks’ fourth of the season by four points or less, all in nonconference games.
Port Washington 62, Sheboygan Falls 43
The Pirates sprinted to a 21-9 lead in the first quarter and cruised to a nonconference victory at home Feb. 23.
After taking a 32-20 edge into halftime, Port stretched the margin to 45-29 by the end of the third period.
Gasser had a game-high 16 points, and Steinmetz and Kennedy added 12 apiece.
Nick Roelse led the Falcons with 11 points.
SAWYER MOSLEY rose up over Grafton’s Anton Wagner for a short shot during Port Washington’s 59-39 win last Friday. The victory gave the Pirates a share of the North Shore Conference title. Photo by Sam Arendt