Close calls don’t go Port boys’ way in painful regional loss that ends team’s memorable season
Josh Gasser and his teammates could barely watch as their dream faded last Saturday afternoon.
A heartbreaking loss to Whitefish Bay — in a 58-53 overtime thriller to decide a WIAA Division 3 regional title at Cedarburg High School — ended the season for a Gasser-led Port Washington boys’ basketball squad that had high hopes for a long postseason run, perhaps all the
way to the state tournament.
Despite leading most of the way, including by as many as eight points in the first half, the Pirates came up short after a frantic final 12 minutes filled with clutch plays and costly mistakes by both sides, as well as a few critical calls by the officials.
“We should have never put ourselves in a position where we had to go to overtime,” said Port coach John Bunyan, whose team was poised to beat the Blue Dukes for the second time this season after splitting two North Shore Conference games against them.
“We kept taking the ball inside, but in we didn’t get the calls and couldn’t get our shots to drop. It was disappointing.”
What wasn’t disappointing to fans on both sides was the high drama that unfolded in the closing minutes of regulation and early in overtime.
After Bay rallied to take a 46-44 lead with 3:20 left in the fourth quarter, Gasser tied the score by hitting a pair of free throws, the last of his game-high 26 points.
Ron Patten countered with a three-pointer that put the Dukes up, 49-46, with 2:15 left, setting the stage for a frenzied exchange in which each team turned the ball over twice and missed several shots.
After Bay’s Jevontae Merriwether missed the front end of a bonus free-throw chance, Port drew even on a three-pointer by Sawyer Mosley with 32 seconds to go.
Wasting no time, Bay’s John Johnston raced upcourt for a layup in traffic that put his team up, 51-49. The Pirates tried to counter quickly, only to have Gasser whistled for a turnover as he tried to take a three-point shot.
Only 8.9 seconds remained when Port fouled Paul Anton, who missed another front end of a bonus chance. When the Pirates grabbed the rebound, they hustled downcourt, got the ball inside and misfired twice in traffic before Cory Steinmetz drew a foul with no time showing on the clock.
With his team’s fate hanging in the balance, the senior forward stepped to the line as the only player on the court. His first shot caught a bit on the rim but dropped through the net, and his second swished, tying the game at 51-51 and forcing overtime.
“That was a real clutch effort by Cory,” Bunyan said. “It looked like we had things going our way again We felt good.”
Things looked even brighter for Port in the first two minutes of the overtime. A Steinmetz layup put the Pirates up, 53-51, and they got the ball back on a Bay turnover.
However, a missed Port layup gave Bay new life. After Johnston scored on a drive to tie the game with 1:55 left, the Pirates tried to get the ball to Gasser in the low post. When the ball was deflected, Gasser was called for his fifth foul in a scramble to regain possession.
A pair of free throws put Bay ahead, 55-53, and after a missed Port shot, Johnston sank two more free throws with 52 seconds left that helped seal the outcome.
As the final horn sounded, the Dukes and their fans erupted in celebration while the Pirates and their faithful shook their heads in disbelief. No one was more disheartened than Gasser, Port’s all-time scoring leader who will take his basketball talents to the University of Wisconsin-Madison next fall as a scholarship player.
“Things just didn’t go our way in the second half,” said Gasser, who gutted his way through a lingering ankle injury that left him hobbled after the game.
“We didn’t get any calls, but I don’t want to blame the officials. I guess we didn’t make enough plays, and Bay did.
“Both teams played hard. Bay has a really good team, but we thought we should have won.”
Port got the better of Bay in the first half, controlling the interior as it built a 19-11 lead. After the Dukes pulled to within three points late in the second quarter, the Pirates went on a late run and took a 25-20 lead into the break.
Port’s lead stood at 38-33 on a three-pointer by Gasser late in the third quarter, but Johnston countered with a three of his own to pull the Dukes within 38-36 entering the final period.
Johnston, a senior guard, led Bay with 13 points, all in the second half, and Patten finished with 11.
Steinmetz had 11 points to join Gasser as the only Port players in double figures.
Bunyan said the Pirates’ defensive plan was to hold Johnston and Jamie Schneck, Bay’s 6-foot-7-inch center, in check. The strategy worked to near-perfection in the first half, when the duo combined for just two points, but they got free for 19 points in the second half.
The Dukes’ major objective in the game was also playing tough defense — on Port’s center of attention.
“We knew we had to pick up our defensive intensity and really focus on Josh,” Bay coach Kevin Lazovik said.
“He’s such a great player. We knew if we didn’t hold him in check, it was going to be very tough to win.
“It was a game that could have gone either way. We’re just happy it worked out the way it did.”
Port finished the season with a 19-4 record that included its first conference title in 36 years.
Bay (17-7) advanced to sectional play this weekend.
Port Washington 84, Young Coggs Prep 58
Points came early and often for the host Pirates as they raced to an easy win in a regional semifinal game March 4.
Despite being slowed by a sore ankle, Gasser scored a game-high 33 points, including 27 in the first half when Port built a 52-25 lead.
Before Port’s starters retired for good, the Pirates’ advantage grew to as much as 34 points, at 67-33, midway through the third period.
Port dominated the front line throughout the first half, scoring repeatedly on short jumpers, layups and second-chance baskets.
Eleven Port players contributed points, including Shane Kennedy with 11 and Steinmetz and Mosley with nine apiece.
Young Coggs Prep, a Milwaukee-based team that played as an independent, was led by Diondre Willis with 19 points.
The Eagles finished the season 18-4 with a schedule against primarily teams from charter schools.
AS THE FINAL HORN sounded, the Port Washington sideline was filled with players heartbroken by the outcome of Saturday’s regional title game, including standout guard Josh Gasser, who buried his head in his hands on the floor. Photos by Sam Arendt
PORT’S Joey McIlree found himself surrounded by a pair of Whitefish Bay defenders.