Tigers win fourth straight regional crown

by Matt Kraus
Review Correspondent

HOWARDS GROVE – The third matchup in five weeks between Big East Conference rivals, the Howards Grove Tigers and Kohler Blue Bombers, was a defensive struggle throughout.

The first half looked like HG would roll easily into the sectional round of the Division 4 playoffs – leading 19-7 at the break – but Kohler’ s full court press and halfcourt pressure defense caused the Tigers problems in the second half.

Ultimately, the No. 2-seeded Tigers held on for a 38-32 victory, improving to a 22-2 season record. The Tigers, ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press D-4 poll, will play top-seeded Manitowoc Roncalli Thursday night in a sectional semifinal. The game will be played at Kaukauna at 7 p.m.

HG, which won its fourth straight regional title, lost to Roncalli, 48-37, on Jan. 30.

“Advancing to sectionals was one of our goals. With the success teams have had in the past, there is pressure on us,” said Tiger senior Derek Stauss.

Kohler, which entered the game as a No. 3 seed and ranked No. 8 in D-4, finished the season 20-4.

The Tigers built their lead to 26-9 four minutes into the second half after Jack Baldwin scored on a runner across the lane.

Two minutes later Carter Gebler hit a long three-pointer and Kohler quickly called a timeout as the gap was closed to 26-12.

Coming out of the timeout Kohler put full-court pressure on the Tigers. HG was able to break the press but Joe Bugbee came up with a steal in the front court for Kohler.

Although they were unable to score, the Blue Bombers continued the defensive pressure and forced a turnover with a trap.

“The press rattled us a little bit and we had problems getting into our sets,” said Stauss.

“We’re not used to seeing that kind of pressure. We missed some open guys, but that’s an easy fix,” said Tiger head coach Wade Georgeff.

Ben Maki, Kohler’s leading scorer this season at 19.4 points per game, took advantage and scored his first points of the game with 9:24 to go on a drive to the hoop.

“Jack Baldwin is one of the best defenders in the state. He was able to hold Maki to seven points tonight and in our last game Maki only scored six,” said Georgeff.

Trailing 26-14, Bugbee went to work for Kohler, driving the lane and spinning from defenders on the next three possessions. Bugbee drew a foul and made two free throws on the first drive. He followed with three-point plays on consecutive possessions, bringing Kohler within 28-22.

A basket by Sean Farrell and free throw from Bugbee closed the gap to 28-25.

A three-pointer by Maki, following two free throws by the Tigers’ Isaac Dirker, made it 30-28 HG.

Stauss made a free throw for the Tigers but Maki scored and the Tigers’ lead was cut to 31-30.

Baldwin stepped up for the Tigers with a drive down the lane for a basket and later made two free throws to give the Tigers a 35-30 lead with 44 seconds to play but Kohler wasn’t finished.

Farrell scored on a reverse layup to cut the lead to three but Baldwin made one of two free throws for a 36-32 Tigers’ lead.

Reinemann sealed the game at 38-32 two free throws.

“With Jack on Maki our goal was to stop Gebler and Bugbee. We did that, only giving up three to Gebler and Bugbee scored 11 to lead them,” said Georgeff.

“Jack Baldwin played a great all-around game. He led us in points [12] and even though he had to defend Maki he had the energy to get to the hoop.”

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