Coming off an emotional 58-49 victory over the Wrightstown Tigers in the Division 3 Sectional Title game, the Xavier Hawks were looking to take the last step towards that elusive state title that they came so close to last year, taking home the silver ball with a runner-up finish.
First up, a battle with the #1 team in the State according the Wissport.net coaches poll, the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau (GET) Red Hawks. Xavier never trailed in the contest, beating the Red Hawks 82-75 to advance to the division 3 State Finals.
“I think the score would lead people to think this was an offensive shoot-out, but actually I was really proud of the way we played defense today,” said Xavier head coach Matt Klarner. “We executed our game plan well and show great toughness on the ball. We really forced them to take difficult shots and that was what we were trying to do.”
You could tell that the Hawks were going to battle, evidenced by Matt DeYoung blocking the very first shot of the game by GET. While the Hawks never trailed in the game, the Red Hawks did the best they could to try and keep the game close so they could figure out a way to win it in the end.
“Xavier is a heck of a basketball team,” said GET head coach Mark Wagner. “We knew that their ball-handling might give us problems, and they handled our pressure really well. Once we got down, I thought we lost a little patience. We tried to force the issue a little too much and extend a little too much. A lot of things we did all year, like defense and taking charges, with struggled with.”
Xavier ran into some foul trouble, with superstar Sam Burkart picking up two quick fouls in the first half and with 9:02 left in the game he picked up his third, but the Hawks were able to weather the problem.
The Hawks were able to deal with Burkart’s foul trouble with the play of Sam Ferris. The sophomore guard continued the hot hand he had in the sectional title win over Wrightstown with a 24-point effort against the Red Hawks. He also pulled down six rebounds in his 35 minutes on the floor for the Hawks.
“Coach told me to look for my shot,” Ferris said. “He wanted me to drive the lane, which he said would be there all day, and just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team.”
Ferris was one of four Hawks in double figures in the win, with Burkhart chipping in 15 points in his 20 minutes of play, and Zach Simons and Hunter Plamann adding 14 apiece. Xavier shot 48% from the field and 80% from the charity stripe in the contest.
Simons also had the unenviable task of having to defend Nick Wagner of GET. The 6’3 senior guard scored 35 points, but had to take 33 shots, hitting 14, to get to that number. He struggled from beyond the arc, going 2-11 from three-point range. Lucas Scherr was the only other Red Hawk in double figures, with 11 points. Chris Thompson and All Scherr finished with nine points each.
“They (GET) have a lot of shot makers, especially Wagner, but we held him in check,” Klarner said. “He may have put up a big number, but he took a lot of shots to get there.”
The Xavier Hawks will now face the Waupun Warriors in the Division 3 championship. The Warriors, 55-43 victors over Prairie Du Chien, come in to the game 26-1 in their first trip to the state tournament since 1927. They were champions of the East Central Conference. Game time is 2:30 pm on March 19th.
“Our guys showed great mental toughness to get over the hump,” Klarner said. “Making the championship game feels good right now.”