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Bringing a gold ball home: Lions win state title

Updated: Mar 19, 2023

March 18, 2023

By David Nordby

The Brillion News

Brillion celebrates after winning the WIAA Division 3 state championship on Saturday, March 18, 2023 at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Lions beat West Salem 61-55. (David Nordby/Brillion News photo)

MADISON – The checklist is complete.

The Brillion boys basketball team set a list of goals at the start of the season that is realistic for few high school sports teams, but was attainable for them.

The Lions checked off the final item on the list with a 61-55 win against West Salem in the WIAA Division 3 state championship game on Saturday afternoon at the Kohl Center in Madison. With the win comes a gold ball back to Brillion.

The showdown between the top two Division 3 teams in the state lived up to the hype. The Lions erased a 5-point halftime deficit and started the second half on a 9-0 run. The game was tied eight different times and the lead changed 14 times.

Jeremy Lorenz made two free throws with 7:14 remaining to give Brillion a 43-42 lead. The Lions never trailed again. On the team’s next possession, Lorenz hit a turnaround jumper over West Salem’s best player Peter Lattos.

Brillion fans held their breath in the final minutes as their team’s defense and free throws closed the game out. Parker Braun made a basket with 1:28 left to give Brillion a 5-point lead but Lattos scored on the other end.

Following an Owen Krepline free throw, Lattos made another basket with 41 seconds left to make the game 55-53.

“You know (West Salem’s) going to fight to the end,” Brillion coach Chad Shimek said. “Defensively, you know they’re coming after you and it’s a physical game. They let us play, and so we just had to continue to be strong and make the simple passes and hit free throws, and you see a lot of basketball games and that’s not always easy things to do, so I think our guys did a really good job stepping up in that moment.”

Lorenz made two free throws with 28 seconds left and Bennett Olson made two free throws with eight seconds left to ice the game. Lorenz made two free throws with less than a second left to put the finishing touches on the program's second championship in history and first since 2012.

“Just confidence was the key,” Olson said. “I know I was confident going to the line that I’d knock down those free throws. I know Jeremy’s confident. Our team is confident in our abilities and in each other’s abilities, and I think that mentality, we can all lean back on each other, and that helps.”

In a season of great Brillion defense, the Lions put together maybe their best performance yet. West Salem (28-2) averaged 84 points per game coming into the championship. The Lions held them to almost 30 points below that average and to 34% shooting.

“We knew it would be a challenge. We just tried to keep it one possession at a time, make it as difficult as we could for them, make them make another pass,” Shimek said.

The Lions won the rebound battle 43-38, which Shimek said was another key to the game. They also outscored West Salem in the paint 32-26.

Lorenz finished with 26 points off 8-17 shooting. He made 10-12 free throws. He also tallied 11 rebounds, three assists, three steals and four blocks.

Krepline was a spark off the bench with nine points. Olson scored 10. Braun scored eight with a team high five assists. Caeden Holly made a key 3-point basket.

Grady Geiger and Braun played the entire game. Lorenz likely would have but he was forced to leave with an ankle injury before he returned.

“I knew going out there tonight that I wasn’t going to (leave) anything on the floor and so, that’s why when I went down with that ankle injury, I couldn’t walk, but I knew that I was getting back out there,” Lorenz said.

Lorenz finished the game with four fouls, which also limited his aggressiveness in the final minutes.

“I think they both kind of affected how aggressive I could be,” Lorenz said. “In the moment in a big game like that, it didn’t really bother me too much. It hurt but … I’m going to run and try to get the ball and make the right play whether my ankle hurts or not.”

The game was a rematch of last year’s state semifinal.

“I don’t think you can really go into any game expecting to win, obviously especially in a state championship game like this,” Lorenz said. “They did a lot of things to us that other teams don’t.”

Like last year's game, it was clear why both made the state tournament.

“We knew that we were going to have to play a good game offensively, defensively and we were going to have to do the little things … I think we were able to play some good defense and hit just enough shots,” Lorenz said.

In addition to the state title, the Lions accomplished something no other team had done in program history with back-to-back trips to the state tournament. The two seasons created a lifetime of memories for those involved.

“I’m just so proud of our players, proud of the five seniors that we have. They do everything the right way. They’re gentlemen off the floor, they’re competitors on the floor. They show great sportsmanship. They take care of one another,” Shimek said.

Community was also on their minds after the game.

“It’s a big community thing,” Olson said. “We’re a small school, small town, everybody knows everybody. They see everything we do, so we try to keep that great character up at all times. It’s just a small town, big heart type thing.”

“Yeah, a state championship is awesome, but to be able to do it with good people and people that do things the right way. It’s a family and people use that term a lot, but to be able to spend time with these guys, and I’ve got a young son, James, who’s a sixth grader, to be able to have him watch these guys and how they carry themselves, is priceless,” Shimek said.

Coaching notes

West Salem coach Mark Wagner coached against Brillion in the 2012 state championship for Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau. Wagner is in his second season as coach of West Salem and 22nd season overall as a head coach.

Shimek was an assistant under Peter Kittel when the team won that 2012 state title. Now attached to his name is state championship winning head coach, but after the game he said he wasn't thinking that.

“It’s not about one person. I’m thinking about our youth coaches. I’m thinking about Brian Krizenesky, who’s an assistant who’s been with the program for 38 years. I’m thinking about Tanner Behnke, who’s an assistant who was a player who won the state championship as a player and as a coach. I’m thinking about Andy Holly, who gives his time. It’s about so many people and I think when you get caught up in thinking about individual things, that’s when you kind of lose focus on what it’s really at. I’m just glad I can keep Brillion basketball going,” Shimek said. “I chuckle a little bit. Somebody said it’s a 10-year drought for a state tournament. I guess I hope I’m around for another 10 years, but these guys have been extremely successful. They’ve been to three sectional finals in a row, they qualified for the state tournament two years in a row, and I always say anybody that understands the process, that’s an extremely difficult thing to do.”

Brillion 24 37 – 61

West Salem 29 26 – 55

Brillion: Jeremy Lorenz 26, Bennett Olson 10, Owen Krepline 9, Parker Braun 8, Grady Geiger 5, Caeden Holly 3. Total: 20-53. 3-point: 2-11. Free throws: 19-24. 3-point: Holly, Olson. Fouls: 15. Fouled out: none. West Salem: Peter Lattos 20, Tamarrein Henderson 12, Carson Koepnick 8, Kyle Hehli 8, Joe Sullivan 4, Brett McConkey 3. Total: 21-63. 3-point: 5-30. Free throws: 8-15. 3-point: Lattos 2, Hehli 2, Koepnick.



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