Panthers struggle to find energy in loss to Irish

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Greg Bates, Times Herald correspondent

A combination of nine games in the last 25 days and several players trying to fight off sickness hurt the Oconto Falls boys basketball team.

The Panthers trailed by just one point to Freedom at halftime, but the Irish wore down the visitors with a 25-10 run to start the second half to score a 62-47 victory in North Eastern Conference play Monday.

“We had no energy whatsoever. And the way we play, we have to have energy,” Oconto Falls coach Kirk Hirst said. “We’ve been battling illness, and I don’t know what it was. Like I told them in the locker room, ‘Guys, we’ve been playing so hard for so long, we’re going to have a letdown.’ That’s what happened tonight. I thought competitively, we just were never there.”

Tough close home losses the previous week to Waupaca and Wrightstown are still lingering.

“This time of year is when the dog days of winter get to you,” Hirst said.

Oconto Falls shot well from the field, 43 percent, but only managed 39 attempts. But it was at the free-throw line that really did in the Panthers. The team was just 4-for-12.

“We shoot the ball well in practice — free throw shooting, we do,” Hirst said. “In practice, we shoot 75 percent. And we come here, and free throws were awful.

“The free throws are just killing us, and the guys have got to understand that.”

Only three of Oconto Falls’ starters scored, but Dylan Nelson and Connor Peetz came off the bench and performed well. The duo combined for a pair of 3-pointers and 17 points.

“Dylan and Connor have been playing well and Kade (Brabant),” Hirst said. “Our guys that come off the bench have been playing well for us all year. That’s why we bring the bench; they give us a little spark, and I’m happy about that.”

Mason Sefcik and Josiah Schoen both scored 14 points. Schoen was 4-for-4 from 3-point range as Oconto Falls was 50 percent (9-for-18) from beyond the arc.

Freedom’s Zachary Mashlan scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the second half.

Oconto Falls (3-12, 2-10 North Eastern Conference) trailed 11-7 in the opening half before Peetz scored five consecutive points to fuel a 10-2 run to put the Panthers up 17-13. Freedom (9-7, 8-4) ended the half with an 8-3 spurt to regain the lead.

The Irish didn’t waste much time to start the second, scoring 10 of the first 12 points to go up by 9 points, 31-22.

“It really wasn’t anything different other than making shots,” said Freedom coach John Miron about his team’s strong second-half start. “We made shots in the second half that we didn’t in the first.”

Freedom – playing without two of its starters, Ty Brickner and Caden Hofacker, because of injuries — built its lead up to 16. However, Schoen drained back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 51-42. The home team scored the next eight points to put the game away.

Hirst could see his players were drained after exerting maximum effort all game long.

“When we play with energy, that’s who we are. And we just didn’t have it tonight,” Hirst said.

Miron was impressed with how Oconto Falls played. He’s expecting the team to play strong down the stretch leading into the playoffs.

“We were talking in (our locker room), I think they’re going to beat somebody. They’re going to catch somebody,” Miron said. “I hope they do, because Kirk is working those kids hard. He’s positive with them, and that’s nice to see. That’s kind of what high school basketball’s about.”

Oconto Falls (47)

Sefcik 0-3 14, Walter 0-1 0, Nelson 3-5 9, Manns 0-0 2, Schoen 0-0 14, Peetz 1-3 8.

Freedom (62)

Balthazor 2-2 5, Mashlan 4-5 21, Green 1-2 1, Behnke 0-0 3, VanAsten 0-0 3, Baumgart 1-1 9, Vandenberg 0-0 7, Pingel 5-5 13.

Oconto Falls 20 27 — 47

Freedom 21 41 — 62