Bulldogs batter Gators in ranked EHC matchup
WISNER — Class D No. 3 Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family was chomping at the chance to get back on track following losses in two of its previous three games. Class C No. 7 Wisner-Pilger was the victim.
Freshman Jason Sjuts posted a game-high 16 points, senior Tyler Sjuts tallied 12 points and a team-best six rebounds, and the Bulldogs battered the Gators 59-44 in a battle of East Husker Conference teams Tuesday night.
“We knew they had a pretty good record coming into this, and we had lost a couple before this,” Jason said. “We knew it was really important for our (NSAA power) points. It was a really good team win.”
Both teams came off contrasting finishes in their most recent outings. The Bulldogs lost by four points to undefeated Riverside — ranked third statewide in Class D2 — while the Gators made coach Duane Mendlik the winningest coach in Nebraska boys basketball history Friday against West Point-Beemer.
That four-point loss for HLHF was marred by 28-percent shooting, including 6 of 30 from 3-point range. Needless to say, a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter helped change the momentum Tuesday.
“We kind of shot our way out of that one,” HLHF coach Joe Hesse said. “To see us come back and have guys knock down the open ones, that was a good bounce back.”
HLHF finished just 34.5 percent from the field, but made 19 of 55 shots, including 5 of 16 from 3-point range. Wisner-Pilger shot 35.6 percent (16 of 45) from the field, with Justin Pieper and Jayden Raabe both scoring 11 points to lead the team.
“If you were just a fan of the game, it would be fun to come watch Wisner-Pilger,” Hesse said. “We have a couple of their games on tape, and I don’t know who their best player is. After watching them for three games and playing them now, they just play well together.”
Wisner-Pilger held a 30-18 advantage in rebounds, led by Raabe’s eight, but it didn’t matter most of the night. HLHF used a suffocating press defense that resulted in 16 steals and caused 23 Wisner-Pilger turnovers — a rarity for a Mendlik-coached team.
“I don’t think we played hard tonight,” Mendlik said. “We had 23 turnovers. We haven’t had 23 turnovers in 20 years. Some of those were just dumb stuff that we did. They’re where they’re supposed to be, but if we do what we’re supposed to, we’re not going to have 23. They’re a good ball club, don’t get me wrong.”
The Bulldogs got things going early when it went to its bench. The Sjuts twins — 6-foot-3 freshmen Jason and Jacob — helped spark an 8-0 run in just 1:15, turning a 5-1 deficit into a 9-5 lead. Jacob found Jason for a corner 3 with 4:30 left in the first quarter to pull within one, and Jason spotted 6-foot-4 senior Tyler Sjuts a minute later to take the lead, and the Bulldogs never trailed the rest of the night. Bret Hanis stole the ensuing inbounds pass and fed it to Jason Sjuts, who was fouled and hit both free throws around a Wisner-Pilger timeout at the 3:15 mark. The lead swelled to 14-6 after two Turner Beller free throws and a Jacob Sjuts 3 with 1:55 on the clock.
“Our first five sets the tone, and then around five or six minutes, we sub and we have those Sjuts twins who we bring off the bench,” Hesse said. “They’re just balls of energy. I have them in the classroom and I can’t get them to sit down. That’s a bummer there, but it’s fun on the basketball floor. I think they were responsible for some turnovers, and we got some fast-break points.”
The Gators didn’t go away immediately. Pieper drove the lane for two, and then Raabe connected on a putback half a minute later to put Wisner-Pilger within 14-12 with 7:10 until halftime. But the Bulldogs answered.
Jason Sjuts highlighted a 10-0 run with a conventional 3-point play at the 5:05 mark, Beller added a driving layup less than a minute later, and Jacob Sjuts put the Bulldogs up 24-12 with a free throw.
“Their length, no question, caused us problems,” Mendlik said.
The Bulldogs landed a dagger right before the half. Ethan Hanzel netted a putback with 37 seconds left, and after another Wisner-Pilger turnover, HLHF had a chance before the buzzer. Jason Sjuts missed a corner 3, but Tyler Sjuts was there for a baseline putback just before the horn. HLHF would lead by at least 13 the entire second half.
“This 15-point win, that’s pretty cool. That’s a big win for us,” Hesse said.
HLHF 14 18 14 13 — 59
Wisner-Pilger 8 9 10 17 — 44
HUMPHREY/LINDSAY HOLY FAMILY (9-2): Bret Hanis 4-12 1-1 10; Turner Beller 1-7 7-10 9; Dylan Hanzel 3-7 2-4 8; Jason Sjuts 6-10 3-3 16; Tyler Sjuts 3-11 2-4 12; Jacob Sjuts 1-6 1-1 4; Ethan Hanzel 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 19-55 16-23 59.
WISNER-PILGER (8-3): Regan Bellar 0-3 0-0 0; Cole Jacobsen 0-2 2-2 2; Justin Pieper 4-9 1-2 11; Trevor Styskal 1-1 0-0 2; Caden Jackson 2-7 0-0 5; Dylan Kneifl 1-5 1-4 4; Colby Heller 4-9 1-2 9; Jayden Raabe 4-9 3-4 11. Totals: 16-45 8-14 44.