Strong start sparks Panthers in regional semififinal

by Greg Ceilley of The Review staff

COLLIN DENZIN of Plymouth tries to drive past Slinger’s Taylor Loiacono in Friday night’s regional basketball semifinal game. — Review photo by Greg Ceilley COLLIN DENZIN of Plymouth tries to drive past Slinger’s Taylor Loiacono in Friday night’s regional basketball semifinal game. — Review photo by Greg Ceilley PLYMOUTH – Plymouth came out blazing and then staved off a fourth-quarter rally by Slinger to earn a 55-48 win in a Division 2 boys regional basketball semifinal game Friday night at the PHS gym.

The win was the 10th straight for the No. 2-seeded Panthers who improved to 20-3. The No. 3-seeded Owls finished 13-10.

“It was a great team victory. We played good offense and played good defense,” said senior guard Clay Henning.

“They fought and we fought but we came out with the win.”

PHS jumped out to a 19-8 lead after one quarter, fueled by excellent teamwork on offense and a tenacious man-to-man defense. The Panthers carved up the Owls’ defense with good, crisp ball movement and excellent passing. Junior forward Zac Cain exploded for eight points off the bench and senior forward Eric Nygaard erupted for seven to ignite Plymouth’s attack in the opening quarter.

Cain was a beast inside in the opening period – scoring his points on two strong drives to the hoop, a rebound basket and a layup. Nygaard hit a layup, a threepointer and a follow-up basket.

The Panthers’ defense forced four turnovers in the first quarter and converted two of them into four points.

PHS was up 27-17 at halftime, led by Cain’s 12 points. Slinger’s defense tightened up in the second quarter and slowed down the PHS offense – holding the Panthers to only eight points.

The Panthers used an 8-3 run to build their largest lead of the game, 35-20, with 3:50 left in the third quarter. Kollin Neils started the spurt with a driving layup, then Tom Jankowski hit a rebound basket. Henning followed with a steal and layup, and a free throw, and Neils made a free throw which capped off the stretch.

The Owls responded with an 11-4 tear which sliced Plymouth’s lead to 39-31 through three quarters. Jay Smith sparked the run by scoring his team’s final five points on a three-ball and two free throws.

Slinger climbed to within 42- 36 after Tyler Reinhardt drained a three-pointer but was unable to come any closer. PHS was 7-for- 8 at the foul line in the final 2:15 which sealed the deal.

Neils exploded for nine points in the fourth period to power the PHS attack. The 6-foot-2 senior guard netted a game-high 18 points and in the process broke the PHS boys all-time scoring record – pushing his career total to 1,184. The previous mark was 1,180 by Dave Mikolyzk from 1993-96.

“I didn’t want the seniors to go home. You gotta play hard for them,” said Cain.

“Offensively, I just cut to the basket and they got me the ball.”

Neils also led his team in assists Friday night with five. Cain contributed 14 points. Nygaard had a team-high five steals and six rebounds to go with nine points. Jankowski totaled four steals.

“We expected a hard-fought battle. It’s never easy in the playoffs,” said Panther head coach Jason Duff. “Slinger is a fantastic defensive team and has some athleticism. Their 2-3 zone slowed us down in the second quarter.

“We made enough stops down the stretch and had some good, attacking drives to the basket in the second half to keep the margin at least beyond one possession.

“Tom did a great job on defense. Zac was really big in the first quarter and played solid the whole game. Kollin helped seal it and had some good drives to the basket in the fourth quarter,” Duff said.

Josh Hau led the Owls’ offense with 14 points and burly 6-6 center Jason Erdmann hit 12 off the bench, including eight in the first half which led his team.



Score by Quarters

Slinger........................8 9 14 17 48
Plymouth…..............19 8 12 16 55

Slinger scoring: Tyler Reinhardt 5, Jay Smith 11, Thomas Lofy 2, Sam Osterberg 2, Josh Hau 16, Jason Erdmann 12. Three-point goals: Reinhardt 1, Smith 1.

Plymouth scoring: Clay Henning 3, Kollin Neils 18, Zac Cain 14, Collin Denzin 4, Tom Jankowski 7, Eric Nygaard 9. Three-point goals: Neils 1, Nygaard 1.

Field goals: Slinger 16-38, 42%; Plymouth 18-41, 44%. Free throws: Slinger 14-18, 78%; Plymouth 17-29, 59%.

Rebounds: Slinger 16, Plymouth 20. Turnovers: Slinger 17, Plymouth 8.

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