Oconto Falls boys basketball team falls to Waupaca in NEC play

Panthers’ comeback effort fall apart late
Morgan Rode
Sports Editor

The Oconto Falls High School boys basketball team erased a 17-point deficit but were outscored 10-2 in the final couple minutes of a 75-67 North Eastern Conference loss to Waupaca on Feb. 2 in Oconto Falls.

Oconto Falls trailed 37-20 with about four minutes to play in the opening half, but didn’t give up and continued to fight. After getting back within single digits by halftime, the Panthers whittled the deficit down to two with 11 minutes still to play.

The Panthers lost their momentum and fell behind by nine again, but went on a 15-6 run to tie things up with three minutes to play.

Less than 30 seconds after Oconto Falls tied it, Waupaca went back ahead. Oconto Falls turned the ball on its next possession, but forced a Waupaca miss to remain within two points. An offensive foul called on Kody Vorpahl took away another chance for the hosts to tie it, and also fouled the senior post player out of the contest.

Waupaca took advantage, as its 6-foot-7 big man grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to make it 69-65 with about 1:15 to play. Another Oconto Falls turnover gave the ball back to Waupaca.

The visiting Comets drained over 20 seconds of the remaining time before turning the ball over. Oconto Falls missed a 3-pointer on the other end of the court, but Waupaca couldn’t put the game away after a missed free throw.

Alex Haines made a driving layup with just over 20 seconds to play, but it turned out to be Oconto Falls’ final points. Waupaca made two free throws on the other end, and added four more late free throws after a couple Panther misses and subsequent fouls.

“I think it’s between fouls and just being frustrated,” said Haines of why the team couldn’t quite get over the hump in its comeback attempts. “We just couldn’t score the point, and when you can’t score, it gets in your head.”

Vorpahl’s foul troubles were a big storyline to the contest. The 6-4 senior had the early assignment of guarding Waupaca’s big man. Vorpahl did a good job of slowing him down and making him work hard in the early going, but was tagged with his second and third fouls in a six-second span less than eight minutes into action.

At that point, Waupaca was up seven points, and the calls continued to stack up against Oconto Falls, including a technical foul, before the deficit reached 17.

“We had to go in a zone and had to get a couple guys to box him out. It was a little tough,” said Oconto Falls’ Caden Birr on how the team’s foul trouble played a role.

After struggling to find an offensive groove for much of the first half, 3-pointers started to fall, and the hosts quickly started chipping away at the big deficit.

Jameson Beaman knocked down two 3-pointers to spark the Panthers, and Birr hit another triple to make it a seven-point contest. By halftime, Waupaca led 41-32.

Haines and Carter Hill powered the host’s comeback efforts in the second half, combining to score the first 16 points and getting Oconto Falls within two points, 50-48.

After falling behind by nine points again, Evan Yuma got to the free throw line a couple times to spark the host’s next big push. Birr then scored eight straight points, including two 3-pointers, to tie the game at 65.

“These last couple weeks of practice, we’ve been putting in the work. (We) Don’t want to do like the last couple years where we’re losing game by 30,” said Birr. “We wanted to keep in the game, so we battled back and tied it up after a couple made shots…”

Waupaca 41 34 — 75

Oconto Falls 32 35 — 67

Waupaca (75): Austin Adamczak 0-0 8, Owen Smidt 2-3 4, Phillip Masias 4-4 7, Henry Mouw 10-12 22, Aaron Wolff 0-0 8, Gavin Taggart 0-0 2, Carsten Gile 0-1 2, Riley Bechard 6-7 22.

Oconto Falls (67): Alex Haines 4-6 14, Braden Vandermoss 5-6 11, Jameson Beaman 0-0 6, Evan Yuma 2-4 4, Caden Birr 3-4 19, Carter Hill 1-5 13.