by Dave Boehler
Beacon Sports Editor
In a game to decide who controls their destiny in the Fox River Classic Conference, Green Bay Southwest left Sheboygan North with a huge 59-55 boys basketball victory on Tuesday.
With six league games left, the Fighting Trojans lead the conference with an 11-1 record (15-1 overall) and the second-place Golden Raiders are 10-2 (12-4).
“It was a huge game and a tough loss,” North’s Tanner Sauer said. “It’s something we’ve got to recover from.”
Southwest, ranked third in the Division 2 state coaches’ poll, still has to play third-place (entering Tuesday) Bay Port, fourth-place Green Bay Preble, fifth-place De Pere and the three teams on the bottom of the league: Sheboygan South, Green Bay Notre Dame and Manitowoc Lincoln.
North, hoping to win the title for the second time in four seasons, finishes with Bay Port, De Pere, sixth-place Pulaski and three of the four schools on the bottom: South, Lincoln and Ashwaubenon.
“They’re the team to beat so far,” North coach Eric Worth said. “They kicked our butts at their place and we wanted the opportunity to play them again. We had them at home and had a good shot at it, we just couldn’t finish down the stretch.”
North’s Brent Widder and Southwest’s Will Pytleski each finished with 24 points, and the Golden Raiders also got 12 from Sawyer Pothast.
But North scored just three points in the final 5 minutes, and all three were on free throws.
“Rebounding down the stretch hurt us,” Worth said. “I thought we had a lot of almost-plays where we couldn’t secure the basketball.”
One came with the score tied, 55-55, and Southwest inbounding the ball under its own basket.
The short pass was deflected by a South player but went to the 6-foot-3 Pytleski inside the lane and he was able to score for a two-point lead with 1:17 remaining.
“His size,” Worth said, “when we have zero size, he’s a monster in there, he’s a beast. He’s averaging 20 and 10 (rebounds) a game for a reason. That’s ultimately what killed us down the stretch.”
North had the ball for about 17 seconds when its coach called timeout with 1 minute to go.
“A couple of our guys were deer in the headlights, not really knowing what was going on,” Worth said. “I drew a play up and we didn’t run that the right way coming out and then it kind of turned into scramble mode.”
The scramble took up quite a bit of time before Austin Thyes missed a three-pointer from the left corner with about 17 seconds to go.
“He did exactly what we teach him,” Worth said. “Catch it clean, step into it and grip it and rip it. It was just off the front side of the rim.”
Pytleski was fouled and made both free throws for a 59-44 lead with 14 seconds left.
Widder’s three-pointer from the top of the arc was blocked by Lucas Stieber and the Fighting Trojans were able to run out the clock.
“We’ve worried about this game,” said Southwest coach John Polkowski, whose team won the first game against North this year, 84-68. “It doesn’t mean anything besides we’re one game ahead. We didn’t win anything. We won the game, that’s about it. We’ve still got a lot of schedule ahead. Anybody can take it. It’s proven. Ashwaubenon beat us a couple of weeks ago. … We’re not above anyone.”