BOYS BASKETBALL: Gardner-South Wilmington, St. Anne to play for regional title
DWIGHT — For the fourth time this season, rivals Gardner-South Wilmington and Dwight locked horns on the hardwood.
And for the third and sweetest time, the Panthers emerged as the victors.
The Panthers had four players in double figures and dominated the offensive glass 10-3 to advance to a Class 1A regional final with a 61-48 win.
“We knew [Dwight] was going to play a 1-3-1 zone defensively on us,” Gardner-South Wilmington sophomore forward Nate Wise said. “Myself and Conner [Steichen] knew that we could feed on some cuts to the basket and execute.”
Both teams spent the first eight minutes working the get the upper hand against one another. In the end, the high-octane quarter saw Gardner-South Wilmington lead 15-12 behind six points from Chris Bexson.
The second however, belonged to G-SW’s Chris Bement.
Realizing he had a considerable size and strength advantage in the post, he went to work, and the Panthers rode their horse.
The senior forward had an answer to nearly every Trojan basket and finished with eight points and a pair of rebounds in the frame, as the Panthers led 32-23 at the break.
He finished the game with a team-high 14 points and four rebounds.
“I knew it was going to be a fun game since I played football for Dwight and I knew all their guys,” Bement said. “I was a little more aggressive, and I wanted to make a statement. Me and the guys from Dwight were talking back and forth on the court, so I wanted to ball out for my team.”
Although the Trojans continued to hang around, it hurt that they couldn’t stop the Panthers on the glass.
Every Panther made an effort to crash the offensive glass for rebounds and second-chance opportunities. Wise was a force and the difference-maker down the stretch as he grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds alongside 13 points and five assists.
“This was a big game, and we knew we needed to win,” Wise said. “We’re going for it all this year, and we’re riding a wave right now. All of those putbacks really helped. We go hard in practice and do rebound drills a lot; it paid off for us.”
Dwight managed to stay around and cut the lead down to 49-43 in the fourth, but that was the closest it got as its season came to an end at 11-20.
That also marked the end for 11 Dwight seniors.
“We’ve been playing a lot faster over the course of our last five games, and we’ve averaged 74 points during that span,” Dwight coach Eric Long said. “But we never got to that tempo we wanted to. [Gardner-South Wilmington] did a good job of using height to see over our traps and size to crash the boards. We played OK overall, but we also didn’t shoot the ball well.”
“These seniors were in a tough position last year when there was only one senior. I’m beyond proud of how they persevered through some ups and downs to make some good basketball at the end of the year.”
In addition to Bement and Wise, Bexson and Nathan Wozniak added 12 points and four rebounds each.
For Dwight, Logan Graham finished with a game-high 17 points and eight rebounds, and Cal Schultz had nine points with five assists.
St. Anne 53, Cornerstone 28
It took about five minutes before realizing this game already was over.
The Cardinals jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead with a pair of 3-pointers from Alec Sirois and didn’t look back.
Cornerstone didn’t reach 10 points until late in the second quarter when St. Anne was ahead 25-10.
“We’ve been playing much better in these past couple of weeks, and we’ve hit our stride,” St. Anne coach Rick Schoon said. “Alec got us off to a great start with his shooting, but our defense was very solid from start to finish. We made a concentrated effort to make sure [Cornerstone] didn’t have any second-chance opportunities.”
The balance and ball movement the Cardinals displayed was the level of precision Schoon liked to see at this time of the year. Nine different Cardinals scored at least one bucket.
“There’s not one kid you can key on for us, and it’s been like that all season,” Schoon said. “Right now, our guys have a lot of confidence in themselves and their shot.”
Defensively, the Cardinals have been stellar during this postseason giving up just 20 points Tuesday to Calvary Christian and 28 points to Cornerstone.
They also forced more than 15 turnovers, which led to transition buckets on the other end.
“Our focus on detail has been much better and our communication defensively has improved,” Schoon said. “We’ve gotten to the right spots while also moving the ball better offensively.”
Connor Cotton finished with 11 points and six rebounds for the Cardinals, and Sirois added nine points.
The Cardinals and Panthers clash for the third time this season Friday in Dwight for a Class 1A regional championship.
The Panthers already have beaten the Cardinals twice this season, and one more win brings the regional to Gardner for the first time since 1994.
“We have to stay aggressive and dominate every part of the game,” Bement said. “That’s all there is to it. Gardner hasn’t won a regional in 25 years, and we want to be the team to get that plaque for the school.”
For the Cardinals, a win marks back-to-back regional crowns.
“Gardner hits the offensive glass so hard, so we have to limit that,” Schoon said. “Last time we played them, we weren’t very good offensively, and we have to make better decisions offensively, move the ball and execute much more crisp.”