By William Soquet
ASHWAUBENON – The home team didn’t make it easy, but Green Bay Southwest came out on top in a gritty Fox River Classic Conference (FRCC) showdown, winning 58-53 in Ashwaubenon on Friday night.
The Trojans (3-1, 1-0 FRCC) were victorious on back-to-back nights after a commanding 77-52 triumph over Menasha on Dec. 8.
The Jaguars (1-2, 0-1 FRCC) fell just short of winning a game that served as the conference opener for both teams.
“Obviously a game you don’t want to let get away from you,” Southwest coach John Polkowski said. “We knew that we would have to dig in and play defense,”
True to form, the game got off to a slow start, with the first points scored after more than two minutes of time ticked off the clock.
Both teams searched for opportunities behind the 3-point line early in the first half, with Southwest jumping out to an 11-5 lead with 11:40 remaining in the first half.
Moments later, Ashwaubenon’s Drew Tomashek made a nifty sequence that featured a crossover dribble followed by a stepback 3 to put the Jaguars back within one possession.
Southwest led by as many as seven in the first half, but Ashwaubenon tied the game with 5:48 to go on a Jayden Schoen layup.
Whenever the Jaguars got close in the first half, it gave a spark to the Trojan offense. Less than a minute later, Jack Van Boxtel buried a fastbreak triple to put the lead back to six.
Both teams played solid defense in the first half, with Southwest taking a 25-21 lead to the locker room at halftime. It came at a cost, with two Jaguars picking up three fouls in the opening 18 minutes.
Coming out of the break, both teams got their offenses clicking.
Ashwaubenon’s Eli Zollar contributed five points in the early minutes and Connor Pytleski picked up the scoring for Southwest. Four minutes in, the lead remained at four points in Southwest’s favor.
The lead shrunk to 40-39 after Zach Kelly scored on a pass from Zollar. Ashwaubenon stayed in the game until it was tied at 47 apiece with six minutes to play.
That’s when history repeated itself, as the Southwest offense came out firing with its lead under attack.
Pytletski sank 3-point baskets on consecutive possessions and made a free throw after the second to convert a rare four-point play.
“I had been feeling it all game, and thought it was the right time to take a shot. Luckily, [the free throw] went in,” Pytleski said.
As it had done all game, Ashwaubenon refused to go away, and found itself down three with a minute and a half to go, needing a defensive stop.
Polkowski then called a timeout to set up an offensive possession, and his team ran 45 seconds off the clock before Gavin Yang was fouled.
Yang’s free throw rimmed in and out, and Ashwaubenon remained within one possession.
“Play smart, get back on defense, no 3s” was the Southwest game plan for the final minute, according to Pytleski.
Jaguars coach Mark Tomashek called a timeout with 21 seconds to go, needing a 3-pointer to tie the game.
Kelly had the hot hand for Ashwaubenon in the second half. After a few passes, Kelly shot a deep 3 from the wing that hit the rim and fell into the arms of Southwest’s Miles Rauschenbach with 10 seconds to go.
After a quick foul, the senior hit on two free throws, putting the game out of reach for Ashwaubenon.
Pytlestki finished with 27 points, accounting for nearly half of the Trojans’ offensive output on the night.
Chris Seals finished with 14 points to compliment Pytleski, including a couple of steal-and-score fastbreak buckets.
“We don’t structure what we do offensively for any guy. Chris has really started off hot this year. Obviously, Connor is who he is, a solid player, but we have other guys stepping up too, which is really nice to see,” said Polkowski about his team’s two leading scorers.
After gunning from 3-point range in the first half, Southwest was able to be patient with the ball and work opportunities inside during the second half.
“We’ve preached them to play fast and be smart, but I think it’s all situational,” Polkowski said. “A game like this dictates that you gotta be kinda methodical, a little more X’s and O’s than some of our other games.”
Coach Tomashek also noted the effect of the methodical offense on his team’s defense postgame.
“We really wanted to get in their gaps, cut off their penetration — we didn’t do that the whole night,” he said. “We were a little timid, especially defensively [in the second half]. You don’t want to pick up a foul, so I think that hurt, too.”
Ashwaubenon was able to grab offensive rebounds and make progress offensively in its own way.
“Zach (Kelly), offensively in the second half, played pretty well, played pretty aggressive,” coach Tomashek said. “I thought our second half offense did a lot better.”
Both teams will be back in action on Tuesday, Dec. 13, with Southwest travelling to Sheboygan South and Ashwaubenon playing at Manitowoc Lincoln.
By William Soquet