/ Articles / Lakeland boys’ hoops struggled to finish
Just a play here. Just a play there. The Lakeland boys’ basketball team sprinkled in some fun wins but at times let games slip away.
The Thunderbirds finished tied for fifth with Antigo in the Great Northern Conference with an 8-15, 4-8 record in conference. They averaged 55.7 points per game and gave up 61.3 points.
“We didn’t win the games we should or could have won,” coach Rich Fortier said. “A 4-8 conference season — that’s a rough conference season.”
Medford and Mosinee were the top dogs of the conference. After that, it was jumble of teams fighting for that third spot.
“We just didn’t do our part,” coach Fortier said. “It’s disappointing we couldn’t finish on top of teams similar to us. I thought we were very competitive to other teams.”
Post up or kick out
It all started with Michael Ouimette, second team all-conference. He led the team with 14.9 points per game, 136 made field goals, 55 made free throws, 6.6 rebounds per game, 46 offensive rebounds and 25 blocks.
“He drew so much attention from the other team,” coach Fortier said. “Offensive rebounding was better than ever. When he’s right and he’s going, he’s as tough (as anyone in the GNC).”
One of his best games came Jan. 14 at Mosinee where he scored 23 points on 11 field goals, helping Lakeland to nearly pull off the win.
Collin Quade and Alex Fortier both received honorable mention all-conference.
Quade, a senior, scored 11.7 points per game on 92 made field goals. He shot 73% from the foul line and was second on the team with 44 3-pointers and a 39% 3-point shooting percentage. He led the team with 73 assists and 35 steals. He scored 18 on Feb. 17 against Ashland, shooting 8/13 from the floor.
“I think he was always a threat to make plays for us and shots,” coach Fortier said. “I thought Collin was a very good two to the 1-2 punch of Michael.”
Alex Fortier, a junior, averaged 10 points per game on 70 made field goals. He led the team with 53 3-pointers, shooting 41% from long range. He finished with 36 assists and was second on the team with 30 steals.
“He was able to make a lot of shots for us,” coach Fortier said. “Mike can throw it out to a shooter and he had two guys to make it with regularity.”
Nolan St. Germaine did much of the ball handling. He averaged 5.4 points per game on 44 made field goals. He was third on the team with 49 assists.
“When he got to the rim he was good. I think he’s got a great future,” coach Fortier said.
Cody Wolfe averaged 2.7 points per game on 16 made field goals. He was second on the team with 52 assists and 22 blocks.
The bench was led by guys such as Matt Holmes, Jacob Borak, Luke Larsen, Colton Ellis and Tim Crisco, among others. Together they all chipped in to spill minutes for the starters.
At the end of the season, both Will Fortier and Brayden Wiczek played seven games and stepped up to be one of the top producers off the bench.
“For five-six games and to do it rotationally, they were playing big minutes,” coach Fortier said. “Both are going to be very good LUHS basketball players. And they’re not alone.”
The season started off on a wonderful note as Lakeland got off to a 3-1 start. They beat teams like Wausau West in a gritty game on Dec. 5, 2019. Then they beat Hayward on the road. Follow that up with their first conference victory against Antigo and they were off and running.
The Hayward win was especially fun. The Thunderbirds went on a run late in the game to take a decent lead. As the Hurricanes came back, the Thunderbird made enough plays at the end to secure the 59-57 victory.
“We were still able to withstand, we were able to get the job done in adverse conditions on the road, figure it out and get the win,” coach Fortier said. “Hayward was a decent team, had some nice players, shot the ball pretty well.”
Then they lost nine out of their next 10 games after that. Good teams and close games seemed to be the moral of the story.
Their one win in that stretch was a thriller. They defeated Northland Pines 69-61 on Jan. 10 in a game that featured a late Thunderbird comeback. Quade put in 25 points on 8/11 shooting, making five 3-pointers.
Other games in that stretch included a close loss to Mosinee on Jan. 14.
“I thought we were very, very engaged,” coach Fortier said. “I thought we were good and Mike was as tough as he could be. We almost stole one on the road.”
Next on Jan. 24, New London blitzed the Thunderbirds when they made 16 3-pointers.
The Thunderbirds showed some life when they picked up back-to-back road conference wins, one in Antigo, the other in Tomahawk.
But the win of the year probably came Feb. 24 at Wausau East. The Thunderbirds won 77-56 and shut down one of the state’s best in Gabe Krueger. After taking a 32-18 lead at the break, the Thunderbirds used 45 second half points to seal the deal. Five players scored in double figures in the game.
“The win against Wausau East … it was pretty good,” coach Fortier said. “It was our one signature win, making (All-State Krueger’s) life miserable, having him in foul trouble.”
Second half woes
During some of their losses, the Thunderbirds found it tough to stay competitive throughout the entirety of the game. On Feb.11 against Rhinelander, the Hodags pulled away late in the first half for a 28-20 lead. They outscored Lakeland 36-24 in the second half.
“Goes right to coaching, what our plans are for the long haul of the game,” coach Fortier said. “We didn’t do what we needed to do at halftime.”
On Feb. 21 against Mosinee, the Thunderbirds were down 26-24, then ended up losing 70-46. Against Antigo in the regional playoffs, they were up double digits in the first half. Antigo ended up outscoring Lakeland 38-32 in the second half to win 61-59.
Even though Antigo outscored the Thunderbirds in the second half, Lakeland showed no give-up in them, giving the Red Robins everything they could handle.
The record wasn’t splashy, but these Thunderbirds gave the community something to cheer and be proud of every single night.