Wrightstown senior guard Jack Van Zeeland went off for 37 points in the Tigers’ comeback win on the road at Luxemburg-Casco last week. Van Zeeland shot 9 of 16 from 3-point range, including six in the second half.
By Andrew Hanlon
A dramatic second-half turnaround led by senior guard Jack Van Zeeland’s six 3-pointers brought the Wrightstown boys to within one game of the top spot in the North Eastern Conference as the Tigers outscored then-unbeaten Luxemburg-Casco by 17 in the final 18 minutes to come away with an 81-71 win last Tuesday.
The game swung back and forth like a pendulum all night. The Spartans got out to a 24-4 lead to start the game as Wrightstown committed turnover after turnover. The Tigers erased that deficit and actually led by a point later in the first half before Lux-Casco finished the first 18 minutes on an 8-0 run to take a seven-point lead, 41-34, into the break.
The Spartans continued to roll to start the second half as they built their lead up to double digits once more. Wrightstown finally grabbed the lead back at the 5:17 mark of the second half as part of a 19-0 run, and the Tigers held on over the course of the final few minutes to earn the win.
It was the third game in a row the Tigers were down double digits or near double digits early in the first half.
“We kept grinding. The game was crazy. It was filled with swings,” Wrightstown Head Coach Cory Haese said. “To me, Luxemburg-Casco is the most talented team in the league. They’re loaded with athletes and physical bodies and they have some kids that can really play.
“(But) our togetherness, and we persevere so well, the kids don’t get down or point fingers.”
Van Zeeland finished the night with 37 points, five rebounds and three assists. He was 11-for-20 from the field and 9 of 16 from deep.
“Jack Van Zeeland was unconscious,” Haese said of his senior guard, who missed his first four threes and then made 9 of his last 12.
“If you watch us play and you look at stats, Sam Haese and Matthew Hansen have been really shooting the ball well from three range, their percentage is unbelievable, their makes are pretty high, and Joe Hella has been doing fantastic in the middle.
“(Van Zeeland) can score, the newspapers just haven’t seen it yet and Jack had a lot of open looks and he buried them. It was amazing. And then the confidence just soared and we kept getting him the ball in good spots and he was able to make nine threes, which is amazing.”
Hansen added 15 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists while Haese finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists.
Hella added 9 points and 8 rebounds.
The Tigers’ offense has begun to click with the return of Sam Haese, and Wrightstown’s winning streak has coincided with the senior’s return as well. Cory said Sam’s return has given the team a boost of energy, which has translated into now six consecutive wins.
“I think it’s a confidence thing,” Cory Haese said. “Sam’s a good player, but the whole rest of the team, knowing you have a guy with three years of varsity experience and a guy that was all-state last year that comes back and plays, and Sam distributes well, he’s a good team guy. It just brings the energy of the whole squad up.”
Ryan Robillard had 29 points and 5 rebounds to pace the Spartans, while Logan Doell added 18 points and Peyton Mrotek finished with 11 points and six assists.
Wrightstown made it six wins in a row in 2020-21 and six wins in a row against former Olympian Conference rival Valders with a 54-49 home win the night after its comeback win in Luxemburg.
Hansen scored 19 points to lead the Tigers and added five rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.
Sam Haese finished with 13 points to go along with 7 rebounds.
Hella, Wrightstown’s leading rebounder so far this season, had 11 boards.
The Vikings’ Jackson Olson had a game-high 20 points to lead Valders (3-5 overall, 3-2 Eastern Wisconsin), while Cole Hove added 12.
The Tigers clung to a one-point, 27-26 lead at the half, but repeated their output in the final 18 minutes, outscoring the Vikings 27-23 for the five-point victory.
The win moved Wrightstown to 7-2 overall and 5-2 in the North Eastern Conference.
The middle of the NEC is bunched up with five teams at 5-2 (Fox Valley Lutheran, Freedom, Denmark, Little Chute and the Tigers), trailing 6-1 Luxemburg-Casco.
Wrightstown looked to continue its winning streak Monday night on the road at 1-6 Waupaca, and the Tigers host Denmark tomorrow night at 7 p.m.