By Greg Bates
ACN & Times-Press sports correspondent
As Matt Peterson stepped to the free throw line, the magnitude of the moment seeped into his mind.
For the first time in Shiocton boys basketball program history, the team would be moving onto a sectional final.
Peterson was a big reason why. The senior scored a game-high 28 points and was 11-for-12 from the free throw line in the second half as No. 2-seeded Shiocton toppled top-seeded Oconto 70-55 in a Division 4 sectional semifinal at Bay Port on Thursday.
“It is probably the best thing that can happen,” said Peterson about the win. “We just made history in our school. Nothing better.”
Shiocton’s Chad Schmidt had coached in five sectional semifinals but had never scored a victory. That changed this year, his 19th season at the helm.
“You want moments to live in and enjoy,” Schmidt said. “I care deeply about the guys, and to see their faces of being in this moment is just a thrill for me.”
Oconto (19-6) and Shiocton (19-5) squared off 10 weeks earlier to the day as the Blue Devils won 62-51 in the Shawano Shootout at the Kress Center. But Shiocton was a difference team that game. Peterson was just returning from injury and scored just two points.
“You have to take your hat off to our point guard who wasn’t healthy the first time we played them, and he was the difference maker in areas for us,” Schmidt said.
Peterson certainly was the different maker. After missing his first four shots from the field, Peterson hit over 60 percent the rest of the game.
But it wasn’t just Peterson who played lights out. Fellow senior Wesley Brouillard came through with 15 points and plenty of offensive rebounds.
“We always wanted a senior-led team,” Peterson said. “Even though we have a ton of sophomores, me and Wesley, we stay strong – same with the other three seniors.”
The dynamic sophomore duo of Austin Vanden Bosch and Corbin Lorge scored 11 points apiece.
“We wanted it more this game and we knew we could beat them,” Vanden Bosch said. “We worked so hard for this game. We’ve been practicing all week.”
Schmidt relied on his seniors on the biggest game of their careers. They came through in the clutch.
Brouillard played phenomenally on the defensive end, drawing three charging calls in the opening half.
“We have to have big performances out of seniors in a game like this and Wesley had some beautiful moments,” Schmidt said. “To draw three charges, that’s as good as maybe hitting two 3s back-to-back, it really is. You wipe out points, but then you get them in foul trouble.”
Fouls played a big factor in the game. Oconto’s leading scorer Connor Ebben was called for his second foul – which was Brouillard’s first charge of the game – at the 14:03 mark of the first half. He was forced to sit for 8 minutes, 31 seconds. Down 5-4, that’s when Shiocton made its move.
With the 6-foot-4 Ebben on the bench, Shiocton tried to exploit the undersized Oconto lineup.
“Before that, we wanted to attack him to get him in foul trouble,” Schmidt said. “We feel like he is just a wonderful weapon for them and if we can get him out for some time that would be fantastic. But when he was out we got a little bigger than, because they got a little smaller. We tried to get it in a little and penetrate some more, but we also wanted to fight more for offensive rebounds at that time, too.”
Said VandenBosch: “We knew when he was out we had to jump on them, and we did. That’s what we’re trained to do.”
Peterson scored nine points during a 19-8 Shiocton run to go up 23-13. With Ebben – who averaged 19.4 points per game — back on the court, the rejuvenated Blue Devils scored the next six points. But Shiocton closed out the half on a 6-3 spurt as Brouillard put in a layup with 1:20 remaining to make it 29-22.
“To keep that seven-point lead is huge, because those first few minutes of the second half we do some times we usually like to start the second half with and then it can become a nine-point game or an 11-point game,” Schmidt said. “Then we’re really comfortable in that area, and then we can withstand some runs then.”
Peterson drained a 3-pointer early in the second half to give Shiocton its biggest lead of the night, 37-24. But Oconto wasn’t done. Not by a long stretch.
The Blue Devils got three straight 3-pointers from Ebben, who finished with a team-high 18 points, to cut the Chiefs’ lead to one, 39-38, with 12:02 remaining. Schmidt called a timeout to regroup.
“We talked in that huddle that this is, ‘Trust our training, our mental training. Be the big time now. They’re going to have their moment, let’s keep doing what we do and things are going to fall our way,’” Schmidt said. “We just did a nice job of not getting rattled. I’m impressed with it, because there’s some young dudes on this team. But that’s a tribute to our senior leadership overall. They set that tone, that’s important.”
Peterson wasn’t worried about Oconto’s run, he wanted to close out the game strong.
“We just always stay focused on the end goal,” said Peterson, who scored 19 second-half points. “It doesn’t matter what happens in the middle of the game, it’s just what happens at the end on that scoreboard.”
Shiocton methodically scored the next six points as Peterson hit a shot and a pair of free throws and Lorge sank two free throws to make it 45-38. A 3-pointer by Evan Allan cut it to three points again, 47-44. However, Vanden Bosch nailed his only 3 of the night and Lorge had a putback basket to bump the lead back up to eight with 6:12 remaining.
“We just remembered how bad we want this and we really want to get far,” VandenBosch said. “We work hard. We want to get this so bad.”
In the final 2:51, Shiocton was 11-for-12 from the free throw line. For the game, the Chiefs were 24-for-28 (86 percent). Coming into the game, Shiocton as a team shot 69 percent from the charity stripe.
As a senior, Peterson was thrilled to live to play another game – at least one more on the quest to making it to state.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Peterson said. “I just feel fantastic.” Shiocton’s Matt Peterson’s layup contributed to his 28 points. Shiocton defeated top seed Oconto 70-55 in their division 4 sectional semi-final game on Thursday, March 8. – Photo by Dave Gomm
Shiocton’s Wesley Brouillard fights for an offensive rebound during Shiocton’s WIAA division 4 semi-final game on Thursday, March 8. Shiocton advanced to the sectional game after defeating No. 1 seed Oconto. – Photo by Dave Gomm
By Greg Bates