Opening the season with a team that lost 10 seniors – including three 1,000-point scorers – not to mention a new head coach, nobody expected defending Division 5 state champion Bangor to make a run similar to that of last season.
The Cardinals would be a solid team for sure, but another state tournament run seemed unlikely at best when Bangor hit the hardwood back in mid-November.
But Bangor’s focus these days is to reload, not rebuild, and that held true this weekend, when the Cardiac Cards battled their way past Blair-Taylor and Southwestern to earn a second straight state tournament berth.
Bangor toppled Blair-Taylor 68-65 in Thursday’s WIAA Division 5 sectional semifinal at Holmen High School, before punching its state tournament ticket with a 70-60 victory over Southwestern in Saturday’s sectional final at Logan High School.
“Obviously, it’s been a great experience and I’m thankful for the opportunity to coach these guys,” said Bangor first-year head coach Jacob Pederson after Saturday’s sectional final victory. “When the buzzer went off, you think “have we really done this.’ The kids have worked hard and we’re excited we get to end our season in Madison.”
Bangor’s sectional title run opened with a thriller against a familiar foe in Blair-Taylor.
The Cardinals suffered their only loss of the season to the Wildcats in December.
The long-anticipated rematch didn’t disappoint, as Bangor and Blair-Taylor battled to the end, before sophomore Zane Langrehr knocked down his third straight three-pointer with 2.8 seconds remaining to give the Cardinals the three-point victory.
Up next for the Cards was another repeat rival, as they faced Southwestern in Saturday’s Division 5 sectional final.
Bangor blasted Southwestern 76-36 when the two teams met in last year’s sectional final, but Pederson knew it would be a different match-up this time around.
“They were super physical, doing anything they could to make it difficult on us, so we knew getting off to a fast start was a key,” he offered.
That’s exactly what Bangor did, pounding the ball inside to leading-scorer Grant Manke from the start.
The strategy worked, as Manke scored nine points in the opening five minutes to help Bangor forge a 16-7 lead with 12:23 left in the half.
Southwestern would rally, cutting the lead to 16-11 with just over 10 minutes remaining, but senior Trevor Jones sparked a run late in the half, scoring three key baskets to help the Cardinals open up a 37-26 lead at the break.
Bangor kept the momentum early in the second half, opening up the frame with 17-8 run to build a 54-34 lead with 10:40 left on the clock.
Southwestern would answer with an 18-7 run over the next seven minutes to cut the deficit to 61-52 with 3:24 remaining, but Manke and teammate Jaymeson Freit hit some key free throws down the stretch to counter the Wildcat charge.
“We wanted to match their intensity, come out fast and keep them from getting second-chance points, and we did a nice job of that in the first half,” offered Pederson.
“We were up by 11 at the half, and I was pretty happy with that, and we were able to build the lead to 20 once or twice in the second half,” he continued. I think their full-court pressure wore us out a bit in the second half, and it caused a few turnovers that allowed them back in the game.”
Pederson said the play of Jones in both halves was crucial to the Bangor win.
“Trevor’s got energy and a fifth, sixth and seventh gear that not many can match,” he said. “For a guy that’s 5’-9”, some of the rebounds and put-backs he got were incredible. He was attacking the basket well and it seems like he never gets tired,” Pederson continued. “He leads by example with the intensity and effort he gives out there.”
Jones saw some key playing time during last year’s state tournament run, but he said this year’s trip to state is more exciting.
“This was the only thing I wanted after getting a taste last year. It feels better being a senior,” he said.
Jones heard the pundits and said he was motivated by those who didn’t believe this year’s version of the Cards had what it takes to make a return trip to state.
“It feels amazing, especially my senior year. To be a part of the experience at state shows the amount of hard work we put in,” he said. “This program isn’t going away – these guys can make the trip again next year.”
Manke scored a game-high 23 points, including a dozen in the first half, to lead Bangor on offense, while Langrehr and Zones finished with 16 and 12 points, respectively.
Hank Reader added an 11-point effort for Bangor, followed by Jaden Fargen with five and Freit with three.
Bangor will face Marshfield Columbus Catholic in a Division 5 state semifinal match-up at 10:45 a.m. Friday at the Kohn Center in Madison.
A win will put the Cardinals in the Division 5 finals, where they will face the winner of another semifinal game between Sheboygan Lutheran and Chippewa Falls McDonell Central at 11:05 a.m. Saturday.