Revenge and a record.
That is what the Sheboygan Lutheran boys basketball team wanted and got Thursday in its rematch at Oostburg.
The Crusaders defeated the Flying Dutchmen, 44-39, in the semifinals of the Big East Conference Tournament just 10 days after Oostburg handed Lutheran its only loss of the season that forged a three-way tie for first between both schools and Howards Grove.
Thanks to the victory, Lutheran is in the league title game against Howards Grove on Saturday.
Jacob Ognacevic finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Crusaders, Jonah Jurss added nine points and Graden Grabowski contributed eight to give the team a 19-1 mark.
Lutheran freshman point guard Casey Verhagen also broke the school record for most assists in a season, erasing the old mark of 194 that had stood since 1999 (Nick Leibham).
“He’s one of the best players to ever play at Lutheran High,” Verhagen said. “It’s just a crazy honor.”
But this was not one of the goals the team set at the start of the season.
“It just kind of happened,” Lutheran coach Nick Verhagen said. “And then before you knew it, it was like, ‘oh my gosh, he’s 50 assists away from breaking the record.’”
The coach is also Casey’s father, who says it’s really special to have his son on the team.
“It’s something I cherish a ton, and I value every single moment,” Nick said. “We’ve been working together on his game and he’s seen me coach since he’s been quite young, so he’s been in the gym with me and working on getting himself better. But as far as being his coach, I’ve been pretty calm and collective with him for the most part, allowing him to trust in his God-given ability to do the things he’s familiar with and how I want things done. He’s the floor leader and he’s 14 years old. It’s pretty cool he’s mature enough to be able to do that, and his teammates have responded really well to his ability to do that. Which speaks to the maturity and comradery of our team.”
Casey was the leading scorer on his grade school teams but this past summer he realized he no longer needed to be. So during Summer League games, he adjusted quickly to what his new role was going to be.
“I think Casey understood, recognized the value and the talent of his teammates at the time,” Nick said. “So he knew it was necessary for him to adapt and morph into a different role as a primary passer and ballhandler.”
But Casey did not have more than seven assists in his first six games this season. However, he’s had at least eight assists in every game since with double-digit totals in 11 of the 13 of them. His season high was 15 Jan. 15 against Mishicot.
His father is also impressed with how his son is able to handle the pressure of being on the team at such a young age.
“Not only being a freshman starting on varsity, being a freshman starting on varsity of a No. 1-ranked team with your dad as a coach,” Nick said. “There’s a lot that comes with that, and he’s handled that and gotten steadily better as the season has gone on.”
Casey still scores – his average of 10 points per game ranks fourth on the team – but Lutheran’s style of play on offense, up-tempo, and the presence of Ognacevic, are huge reasons why Casey set the assist record.
Ognacevic averages 31 points per game and shot 200 field goal attempts entering the game Thursday.
“Jacob’s been the guy for me all year,” Casey said. “He’s just been a presence in the post and I’ve been dishing it to him all the time. And Jonah Jurss and Delvin Barnstable are the two main three-point shooters that I kick to and they knock down a bunch of shots.”