Chargers battle for hard-fought basketball win

Dustin Riese

In what was a defensive battle most of the night, the Wittenberg-Birnamwood Chargers were locked in a tightly contested game with Antigo to open their 2023-24 hoops season Nov. 27. All it took was a 27-point effort from Jett Rogowski and some timely defense as a late game steal and some clutch free throws sealed the deal in what was a 50-46 non-conference win for the Chargers.

“It was a dogfight tonight, but for our first game, I was proud of the resilience and composure our boys played with,” head coach Garrett Rogowski said. “For the first game we did a solid job of keeping them off the 3-point line, but there is always room for improvement. We are going to look at what worked and what didn’t work tonight and use that going forward.”

The first game of a season is challenging in more ways than one as you are not only facing someone other than yourself for the first time, but it often takes a little while for either team to settle in.

That was the case in this one as Colton Thomas and Jake Verhasselt gave Antigo an early 4-0 lead as the Chargers struggled to find the bottom of the net. Even after Rogowski went baseline to put the Chargers on the board, they still trailed 5-2 in the early going as neither team was able to do much of anything the first four-plus minutes.

All it took was for one basket to fall to awaken the Wittenberg-Birnamwood offense, and that bucket came from Oliver Fraaza on the inside to make things 5-4 before Rogowski delivered with a pair of buckets to give Wittenberg-Birnamwood the 9-5 lead. Those were the buckets that seemed to open things up for the Chargers’ offense as Rogowski, Fraaza and Jaden Clark accounted for the next nine points as Wittenberg-Birnamwood opened up an 18-12 lead.

While those three were doing their thing for Wittenberg-Birnamwood, Thomas and Jaxon Bussey were doing their thing for Antigo as they continued to keep things close, 18-14. Had it not been for a Hudson Miller three late in the half, Rogowski would have scored the rest of the points for Witt-Birn as the Chargers took a 25-18 lead into the half.

“Offensively, things got off to a slow start for us, but once we started to attack the rim, it opened things up for nice, nice looks,” Garrett Rogowski said. “Anytime you can be aggressive and have success with being aggressive, you are making things easier for your offense to get open looks and potentially knock those down.”

While the first half was more of a defensive struggle early on, it was the second half that saw both offenses come out strong as once again it was Rogowski setting the tone. After coming away with 11 points in the first half, Rogowski picked his team up when they needed him the most as he scored 16 of his team’s 25 points in the second half to finish with more than half of the total points in the game.

“I played with a ton of confidence tonight and that really helped get things going for us,” Jett Rogowski said. “Antigo is a great defensive team, and they took a lot away from us offensively. Fortunately, I was able to play to my strength and got to the rim by playing downhill. Credit my teammates for knocking down some tough shots throughout the game as this was a big win for our team.”

After opening up an early 29-18 lead and on the verge of blowing things out, it was time for Antigo to get things rolling as they relied heavily on a pair of players in the second half. While both of these players were held quiet in the first half, the same can’t be said in the second half with Gus Schussler and Bussey picking up the slack for their team. After being held to 10 combined points in the first half, both of these guys came to life in the second half as they were responsible for 21 of the teams 28 second half points.

Bussey in particular had his moments as he used his quickness to get to the rim and scored six straight points to pull Antigo within five midway through the second half. That opened things up for Schussler, who was not only knocking down his outside shots but also getting to the rim as Antigo pulled within three, 37-34.

“I thought we got away from things a bit defensively for a bit in the second half, and that we could’ve done a better job keeping them away from the rim,” Garrett Rogowski said. “They deserve some credit for that as they did a great job attacking the rim and forced us to make some adjustments as the second half went on.”

Those adjustments worked out in the Chargers’ favor as they managed to slow down the Antigo surge to maintain their lead throughout the second half. Even with the game getting tight late and the Chargers holding a 48-46 lead, it was the defense that came up huge for Witt-Birn as they managed to steal the inbounds pass at mid-court and put the ball in the hands of Fraaza and Keegan Schmid to ice the game from the line. Both of them split their free throw attempts, but those were two clutch points that the Chargers needed as they held off Antigo for the win.