It was a man's game Saturday night at Marquette High School when Whitefish Bay and Nicolet met to decide a WIAA Division 2 boys regional basketball final.
And the biggest man on the floor took his team on his shoulders and brought it home, as 6-8 Blue Duke senior center Jamie Schneck had 20 points, countless rebounds and innumerable blocks as Bay advanced to sectional play next week with a 44-41 thriller over their North Shore rivals.
"I just tried to get my hands on the ball as often as possible," said Schneck. "As a senior I had to make plays when we needed them."
"This was a huge rivalry game," said Blue Duke coach Kevin Lazovik, "and we knew that Nicolet would give us their best effort. We were just fortunate to make some big plays in some big situations."
As a result, Bay advanced to a WIAA sectional semifinal at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee against Wauwatosa West (15-10), which was a 61-49 winner over Milwaukee Lutheran Saturday night.
The other semifinal will have Whitnall (17-7) and Wisconsin Lutheran (22-2) meet. The sectional final will be Saturday back at the Al at 4:15 p.m. with a state berth on the line. Bay lost to eventual state champion Catholic Memorial in the sectional final last season.
Schneck said his team is poised to take that next step.
"We're definitely ready for it," he said. "It's why we're playing. We're a good team now and playing with confidence. I'd go anywhere with this group of guys."
Especially with him in the lead as the Blue Dukes needed his physical presence in a game that saw every shot contested and every loose ball and rebound battled for by at least three sets of hands.
Nicolet's 2-3 zone flustered Bay in the beginning, as Tyler Miller scored six of his team-high 12 points for the Knights as they took a 14-13 lead.
But the Blue Dukes, who won the season series with their rivals 2-1, took the lead for good by scoring the first five points of the second period, as a putback by Ron Patten put Bay ahead to stay at 16-14.
It was during that stretch that Bay's defense and Schneck in particular started to assert itself. Nicolet hit six of 13 shots from the field in the first quarter but only four of 20 in the second and third quarters combined.
"That stretch really hurt us," said Knight coach Paul Hepp. "I think we scored only eight points in a 14-minute span. It was obvious that Bay was doing a good job defensively, but I think we could have done a better job with our ball fakes."
Schneck was very effective against Nicolet's leading scorer Christian Griggs-Williams, blocking several of his shots and helping Bay hold the 6-6 senior to zero first half points. Griggs-Williams would find more room in the second half, scoring all eight of his points.
The Blue Dukes' advantage going into the break was 26-20.
The defensive run continued into the third period as Schneck had a hand in deflecting or blocking shots on the first three Knight possessions.
Sophomore guard Kelin Johnson hit two drives in the lane and Schneck added two more free throws (he was 10 of 14 from the line on the night) as Bay stretched the advantage to 32-22 with 3:15 left in the third.
But Bay indfifference at the foul line (three of eight in the third and 10 of 19 for the half) left the Knights a window, as they were able to close the gap to 33-25 by period's end.
It would be part of an almost eight-minute stretch where Bay went without a field goal.
"As a coach, it was frustrating to watch," said Lazovik. "It was a hard storm to weather."
Indeed, as when Patten hit one of two free throws with 3:44 left, Bay still had a five-point lead, but then Nicolet got baskets from both Miller and Raheem Lemons to cut the margin to 40-39 with 2:37 remaining.
Nicolet had a chance at a lead after a Bay turnover, but a shot hung on the rim and fell off only to be caromed by Schneck. The Knights got another opportunity after some poor shot selection by Bay, but the Blue Dukes were able to force a turnover when they trapped a Knight guard on the sideline at midcourt.
It was then that Schneck came up big again powering his way into the basket for a lay-up to make it 42-39 with 1:09 remaining.
Schneck was then able to grab another loose ball after Bay forced a turnover but then a frenzied sequence ensued, during which both teams threw the ball up and down the court with the Knights being unable to capitalize on a fastbreak.
Blue Duke guard Paul Anton was able to snare the ball in the end and get it out to Schneck, who was subsequently fouled. He hit one of two free throws to give Bay a 43-39 advantage with 25 seconds left, but Nicolet was not done yet, as senior point guard Terrance Salter drove hard to the basket to cut the margin to 43-41 with 12 seconds to go.
Anton was fouled with 10 seconds left and in what was the final case of of deja vu of an event that occured over and over again this evening for Bay, he hit only one of two charity attempts to make it 44-41, giving the Knights a sliver of light.
Nicolet got the ball up the floor quickly but Miller's three-point attempt from the left side was just wide of the mark as Bay hung on.
"When you have a game where guys know each other as well these two teams do, it's going to be like this," said Hepp, "but I was very proud of our guys, between last night (the regional semifinal win over Brown Deer) and tonight we showed a lot of character."
"Unfortunately, it's the final play everyone remembers."
He then recognized the difficulty of dealing with a big man on a mission like Schneck was this evening.
"He's just so active on the boards," Hepp said. "The motor on the guy just does not stop."
Lazovik, whose team also got eight points from Cal Ehrke, also was grateful to his leader Schneck.
"He's a senior and three-year letterwinner who has been in tough situations before," said Lazovik. "He stepped up big when we needed it."
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