12/5/2017 7:28:00 AM LUHS falls to Wausau West on last-second bomb
Nick Sabato/Lakeland Times
Ray Rentmeester drives past Wausau Westís Mitchell Michalske (1) during the second half of Lakelandís 72-69 non-conference loss on Friday, Dec. 1, at Lakeland Union High School.
Lakeland Union High School boys' basketball coach Rich Fortier knew it would take some time to get his young team up to speed this season.
After opening the season with a hard-fought win last Tuesday, the Thunderbirds were back in action on Friday night in its home-opener against a strong Wausau West team, coached by a former Fortier player, Nate Lemmens.
A sluggish start was quickly erased by halftime, as Lakeland headed into the dressing room up by six points. The T-Birds had numerous opportunities to put the game away during a back-and-forth second half, but the Warriors were able to corral a missed 3-pointer by Gunnar Weitz with a little more than a minute to play and the game tied.
Luck would not be on Lakeland's side as Mitchell Michalske caught an inbounds pass in the corner and his 3-pointer deflected off the side of the backboard and dropped through the hoop with 2.5 seconds left to give Wausau West a 72-69 win.
"You do this enough and you're on both ends of that, and tonight it was our turn to be on the bad end of it," Fortier said. "I thought we played well in spurts. I thought there were a lot of things we could have done differently. I thought we shot the ball well, except from the free throw line. If you told me we're going to shoot 50 percent from the field and make eight 3s in the process against this team, I'd say we had a pretty good chance of winning. Unfortunately they shot pretty well too and that was a product of our defense, which was just a little bit off tonight."
Lakeland struggled mightily in two areas of the game, allowing Wausau West to stay in the game and eventually win it.
The T-Birds shot 13 for 24 from the free throw line and also couldn't find a way to handle the defensive pressure the Warriors offered.
"We didn't have guys rotating where they were supposed to and we did have guys there, we still bank on our guards being able to bring it up against pressure like that because we had a plan," Fortier said. "It wasn't like we didn't have a plan for that stuff. We just didn't make the right reads, we weren't throwing the ball to the right people and we tried to go through a couple of arms. We just didn't handle that situation well enough. I would have simply been staying less frenetic and doing the best we could instead of getting fast, feeling rushed, leaving our feet and worrying about the clock."
After Wausau West took a four-point lead with less than six minutes to play, Jonathan Jurries connected on a 3-pointer to cut the lead to one. Then Santana Barnard got the Lakeland faithful into a frenzy with a steal and a two-handed dunk before Weitz hit a pair of free throws to take a 65-62 lead.
West immediately responded to regain the lead, but down by a point, Barnard broke into the open court again, and before he could rise up again, David Bagby wrapped him up, resulting in an intentional foul and giving the T-Birds two free throws and the ball. Barnard only made one out of two from the charity stripe and the team failed to capitalize when given possession. The free throw would be the final point of the game for the home team.
On many occasions, Lakeland had a chance to put the game away or take control, even early in the second half when leading by seven.
"Somewhere in there we got wrapped up and only made on of two free throws and didn't score when we got the ball. That's tough," Fortier said. "Mason (Wolfe) only made one of two down the stretch, too. Those points are huge in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately when you lose close like this you look back on all those things."
Weitz had a stellar game, despite missing much of the final portion of the first half with foul trouble.
The senior scored a game-high 24 points and Barnard added 14. Meanwhile, Jurries banged in four 3-pointers for a career-high 16 points, while Ray Rentmeester did a variety of little things to help the team and finished with eight points.
"I think Ray will be the first one to tell you there were some more shots he could have put in," Fortier said. "Ray gets to the rim pretty much when he wants to. He gets the rim and then he's got to finish better and he knows that. As much of a slasher as he is, Gunnar's also a pretty good shooter. I thought there were a few moments when we needed to make a tough-man play or a strong-man play."
Michalske finished with a team-high 18 points for Wausau West.
Lakeland (1-1) looks to get back on track tonight at home against Newman Catholic.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.