Three’s a crowd!
The No. 5 seed, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown Buccaneers boys basketball team, outlasted the No. 4 seed, Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton Bulldogs, 58-56, thanks to an amazing display of 3-pointers Tuesday the opening round of the 2A South Subsection in Janesville.
It wasn’t only the Bucs making threes — the two teams combined for a total of 12 beyond the arc in the first half alone and added eight more in the second.
The Bucs led 35-30 at halftime, with WEM junior Tanner Ranslow, and JWP senior Andrew Fisel, both putting on a shooting clinic and pouring in 16 points apiece before the first-half buzzer sounded. But it only got more interesting from there.
The Bulldogs came out of the half with Fisel hitting a quick three, followed by another five straight points to take their first lead since the eight-minute mark in the first half.
Again, Ranslow answered with a bomb of his own out of a WEM timeout to stop the run and tie the game at 38-38.
“That was a big game,” Ranslow said. “I didn’t get to play in the last one so this was a really fun game to be in. Lots of shots going in. Someone had to win. Fisel is a difficult guy to deal with, but I just stayed as close as I could in the second half.”
Fisel finished the night with a game-high 23 points.
“I grew up playing two-on-two with that guy,” JWP senior Sam Eustice said. “He doesn’t miss anything. You give him a little space, it’s over.”
There were five lead changes inside the last six minutes of the game as the teams traded more threes. With the Bulldogs down by three, Eustice threw his defender in the spin cycle and made a nifty bank shot with four minutes left in the game, then followed it up on the next possession with a solid putback off of a Kobe Weimart miss, getting fouled on the play and sinking the freebie, to give JWP a 54-52 lead with less than three minutes to go.
With a minute left to play and the Bulldogs holding on to that two-point lead, WEM junior Bladyn Bartelt hit a contested 3-pointer to give the Buccaneers the lead, 55-54. JWP answered back on the other end when the 6-foot-7 Fisel hit a clutch shot to give the lead back to the Bulldogs.
Again, WEM’s Bartelt showed his range, hitting another huge shot from outside with about 20 seconds to go in the game, retaking the lead for the Bucs, 58-56.
JWP had one last shot. The ball found its way to Eustice with three seconds left on the clock; he dribbled, stepped back around a screen and let a three go that would have won the game. The shot rimmed out and the Buccaneers held on for the 58-56 victory.
Eustice on the last shot of the game: “I got the pass and was going to shoot it right away, but I looked up and saw that there were still a few seconds on the clock,” he said. “So I stepped back around the screen and let it go. Tough shot. In and out. Someone had to lose tonight; it just happened to be us.”
JWP coach Nick James was disappointed in the result, but loved the energy and effort the kids put out.
“This is a good group of kids,” he said. “We’ll be losing a few of the guys (Eustice, Andrew Fisel and Cameron Sack) to graduation, but this is a junior team next year outside of Kain (Oliver). I’m looking forward to these next couple of years working with these guys.”
The Bulldogs (17-9) season has ended, but WEM (13-14) will face the No. 1 seed, Springfield Tigers (24-1), in a 2A South Subsection semifinal game at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 8, at Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial.
The Tigers defeated the No. 8 seed, Truman-Martin Luther-Granada-Huntley-East Chain Jaguars, 89-49, in Springfield earlier in the night.