By Dan Truttschel – Sports Correspondent

Heading into Saturday’s WIAA Division 2 regional semifinal at top-seeded Stoughton, Wilmot boys basketball coach Terry Bruton knew his team needed to bring its best effort to advance.

When the final horn sounded, the Panthers did just about that – and that’s all he could ask for.

Wilmot, the eighth seed, battled Stoughton right to the end before the Vikings finally pulled away in the final minute for a 68-57 victory.

The loss ended the Panthers’ season at 10-12 overall, while Stoughton, a sectional final qualifier a year ago, improved to 19-4 and advanced to a regional final Monday against Milton.

“It was a very good high school basketball game,” Bruton said. “There were at least three or four runs where they took a lead and we battled back. The kids played extremely hard. They fought to the very end. I’m extremely proud of the effort.”

Wilmot, which never led in the contest, pulled to within one point late in the fourth quarter but couldn’t get over the hump.

After a Stoughton basket with about a minute remaining put the hosts up by three points, Bruton called a timeout to draw up a potential game-tying 3-pointer.

The shot attempt was blocked, however, and the rest of the game became a battle from the free-throw line.

Stoughton held a 14-10 first quarter lead and a 30-25 advantage at halftime. Wilmot enjoyed a three-point edge in the third quarter to cut the deficit to just two points heading into the final eight minutes.

The Panthers’ pressure defense and up-and-down offensive pace definitely played a major role in the comeback, Bruton said.

“When we had things going well, we probably made the extra pass, got a good look at the basket and knocked down shots,” he said.

“We wore them down, too. Almost every game we played, we wore down the other team, and that helped us along the way.”

Chris Nelson led Wilmot with 23 points, followed by Mike Stevensen with 13 and Brandon Schattner with 10. As a team, Wilmot made 16 of 19 free throws, while Stoughton was 19 for 30.

The loss ended the careers of five seniors – Nelson, Cal Rohrman, Matt Betz, Kyle Weiher and Edwin Wincek – and each played a role in helping turn the program around, Bruton said.

“Their words after the game were pretty on target,” he said. “We went through all the seasons of rebuilding, and everybody knows that we’re right there. We’ve turned the corner. They know it, could feel it, feel that they’re part of it and want it to continue.

“You could tell they were upset that this was the last game, but they also know that the program is on the upside. They’re excited to see what it’s going to happen the next few years with the young talent that we do have.”

Now the focus will turn to the offseason and taking the program even further next year, Bruton said.

And playing in an electric atmosphere like the one in Stoughton last week will only help with that process.

“Our young guys learned a lot,” Bruton said. “I think they learned that it’s pretty cool to play in that kind of atmosphere and that they can make big plays and take big shots. I think it’s going to keep them real hungry for the upcoming season.”

Results of All-Southern Lakes Conference voting and a season wrap up, which took place this week, will run in a future edition.

 
 

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