It was “Freedom Week” at Wrightstown High School this past week. What it meant was that all of the current sports in season: girls’ basketball, wrestling, and boys’ basketball, all did battle with their North Eastern Conference rival the Irish. After the Lady Tigers and the grapplers both lost hard-fought contests with Freedom, it was up to the undefeated boys to salvage the week for Wrightstown.
The boys did not disappoint. Despite being down as many as 14 points, the Tigers used the energy from a raucous crowd in the Tiger Dome and outstanding performances by Stephen DeCramer and Austin DeCleene to upend the Irish 65-63 in a down-to-the-wire finish.
“We just had to keep doing what we do,” said Tigers head coach Cory Haese of the halftime adjustments. “Offensively we weren’t attacking the rim other than Stephen. We weren’t curl-cutting and just boring on offense and lot that had to do with Freedom. We knew they were a very physical team and a very good team. They defended us different than most teams this year so far, so it was a little new for us and we had to make the adjustment.”
Wrightstown (11-0 overall, 8-0 North Eastern Conference) started off as ice cold as a team could be, perhaps a little apprehensive in the face of the spotlight of being undefeated facing a rival in a televised game. Freedom jumped out to an early lead, and lead by as many as 14 at one point, with a 30-16 lead halfway through the first half. The Tigers were able to get back into it a little bit at the end of the half, but still trailed by 10.
“We were making some shots, and we had a couple of guys that were feeling it and had some confidence in their shots,” said Irish head coach John Van Rossum of the first half. “And I think we had them a little bit on their heels. They were a little tentative and not as aggressive as they have been, so the combination of the two helped us.”
To change that, two things happened in the second half. One, the Wrightstown crowd and especially the student section, led by wrestlers Wyatt Van Rossum, Joshua Verbeten, and Ben Klister, woke up and started to get fired up. And, two, DeCramer and DeCleene simply refused to let their team lose.
DeCramer scored a game high 33 points, a career high, and change the complexion of the game late in the second half. With the Tigers having fought back to tie the game at 43, DeCramer drove to the basket and at the last second made a ridiculous spin move to finish over the outstretched hand of a Freedom defender, giving the Tigers their first lead of the game and completely blowing the roof off the gym.
“Coming in, Freedom is one of our biggest rivals, so we really wanted to get this “W”,” DeCramer said. “I was really hyped up, from the time the clock started until the end, so my emotions were high. That contributed to the scoring and the defense on the floor.”
With DeCramer taking care of the scoring and leading the charge on the offensive end, DeCleene took care of business on the defensive end. The length of the 6’3 senior gave the Irish problems, especially in the second half, helping the Tigers to a 22-6 run to get change the tide of the contest. Also a big part of the run were two three point plays, one by DeCleene and one by Senior Zac Haese.
“We had the feeling that we know we can get back in the game,” DeCleene said. “We weren’t making shots and we weren’t getting stops on defense (in the first half), but we knew if we got a couple of stops then we would start scoring as well.”
Haese chipped in 12 points, while DeCleene finished with seven.
The varsity victory kept the program from going 0-3 on the night. The JV team got 20 points from Luke Haese and 12 from Brayden Smith, but came up a point short, 55-54. JV2 dropped a 62-48 decision, with Mayson Hazaert scoring 14 points and Will Braeger adding eight points.
The victory for the Tigers also moved the 2015-16 squad into a tie for second for most consecutive victories in a season (11) with the 1978-79 team. Next up for the Tigers will be a return date with Luxemburg-Casco. The game is scheduled for Tuesday, January 26th at 7:15pm in the Tiger Dome at Wrightstown High School.