Panthers face severe test in playoff debut

by Greg Ceilley of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH — The road to a possible state berth will be very difficult for the entire field in the Plymouth Panthers’ Division 2 boys basketball regional tournament.

Despite winning the Eastern Wisconsin Conference title and posting a 16-6 regular-season record, the Panthers are only a No. 6 seed in the regional because the field is so strong. Plymouth drew a first-round bye and will play at No. 3-seeded West De Pere, ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press D-2 poll, in the semifinals Friday at 7 p.m.

The Phantoms, who also received a first-round bye, won the Bay Conference and are 20-2 overall.

Other state-ranked teams in the regional are top-seeded Pulaski, rated No. 8, and second-seeded Seymour at No. 7. Seymour finished second in the Bay Conference. The PHS-West De Pere winner advances to the finals Saturday at 7 p.m. at the highest-seeded team’s home court.

The other strong teams in the regional include defending state runner-up Kaukauna and Ashwaubenon. Kaukauna defeated the Panthers in a sectional final last year and earlier this season. Ashwaubenon downed the Panthers in a holiday tournament this season.

“The regional has some very good teams. We think we are one of those teams,” said Panther head coach Jason Duff.

“We don’t view the strength of the regional as a bad thing. We’ve said all along that if our goal is to win one game, then it’s a tough draw because we play one of the best teams in the state right away, but if our goal is to do something bigger, then it doesn’t really matter because you’re going to have to beat good teams any road you take.

“West De Pere has some very talented players. They have a little bit of everything – length, quickness, strength, shooting, rebounding. They are a tough matchup,” observed Duff.

“They are young but don’t play like it. In their two games against Seymour [both Phantom wins] they had players step up and make plays.

“Cody Schwartz gets all the attention because he’s 6-8 and leads them in scoring at 19.5 points per game but Chandler Diekvoss is what sets them apart from most teams because they have two guys that can create their own shot from just about anywhere,” said Duff.

Schwartz is a sophomore forward and Diekvoss a 6-5 junior guard who has a 15.7 scoring average.

“The keys for us to win are the same as they always are: play hard, play smart, play together,” said Duff.

Duff is pleased with his team heading into the game.

“I like how we are practicing. Practices have been fun and upbeat but competitive at the same time. I think that’s what you want at this time of year,” he said.

“We’re getting ready for a big push,” said a confident Owen Henriksen, Panther senior guard.

“We always look forward to big games,” said PHS junior guard Kollin Neils. “We always have a pretty good chance in every game. We’ll come out and play together.”

“We are excited as is most every team this time of year because the slate is clean and everyone has a chance to chase their dreams,” Duff added.

Neils leads Plymouth’s balanced offense with a 12.7 scoring average. Henriksen is first in assists with a 3.6 average and steals at 2.0 per contest. Junior guard Tom Jankowski is the top rebounder with a 4.0 average.

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