The opening night of the WIAA boys basketball playoffs was a grand one for Luke Baier and the Elmwood/Plum City Wolves.
Baier, EPC's star power forward, recorded his 1,000th career point in the Wolves' 70-57 playoff win over the New Lisbon Rockets (5-18) on Tuesday, Feb. 27. Baier said goodbye to one of his two home courts with a 32-point, 18-rebound performance. Quite the way to go out.
After being tied with the Rockets 48-48 with 11 minutes to go in the game, the Wolves transitioned from a man-to-man to their 2-3 defense, which held the 10th-seeded New Lisbon team to just two field goals in the remainder of the game.
It was Baier's special night, but moving onto the second round of regionals would not have been possible for the Wolves had it not been for their full team effort.
Jackson Glampe began the Wolves' 22-9 run with a three-pointer that was followed by senior Carson Heath getting to the free-throw line to give the Wolves a four-point lead. Tyler Maxwell helped initiate EPC's fastbreak play, while Nic Forster, EPC's leading distributor, carried out his role by finding Baier in the paint and getting the ball to the Wolves' hot shooters.
Baier scored his final points at Plum City High School at the free-throw line, and head coach Chris Segerstrom announced his point-scoring achievement at the end of the game in front of a standing crowd.
"I've seen every point that he's scored, so that's pretty cool," Segerstrom said.
Segerstrom told the Herald that he challenged Baier to work for becoming a member of the 1,000 point club while putting his team first during his sophomore season.
"I challenged him to just be a team leader and not press the issue, not make that his top priority, but to let it come to him naturally," Segerstrom said. "We didn't talk about it at all this year and we didn't really focus on it, because that's not how we operate here. We're a team, and it's the team we focus on."
Baier's comments after the game reflected those of his coach's; he credited his success to the improvement of his guards.
"[Their improvement] draws the defense out, and it's easier for me to get open looks," Baier said.
The EPC senior said it felt good achieving his milestone in his last home game, but that he had already moved onto focusing on what was next for his team — EPC's away game against the No. 2-seeded Royall Panthers (21-4).
Royall 65, EPC 39
The regional semifinal game's score may have been disproportionate, but Segerstrom was pleased with the way his team took their shot at the No. 2-seeded Panthers on Friday, March 2.
"I know that the score ended up being a little lopsided, but we played quite well," Segerstrom said. "We played a really tough first half and came out with a lot of energy."
The Wolves only trailed 36-37 at halftime but couldn't carry their first-half momentum into the remaining 18 minutes of play.
"We just came out flat shooting-wise," Segerstrom said. "We were still working hard, but we just couldn't get the ball in the hoop, unfortunately. But I felt the score wasn't indicative of what the game felt like in general."
Defensively, the Wolves were able to hang with the physical Panthers, and were only outrebounded 34-30. Segerstrom said his team "threw the kitchen sink at [Royall]," switching between man-to-man and 2-3 and 3-2 zones to try and slow down Royall's three go-to guys — Seth Brown, Jaydyn Enzenbacher and Tristan Welchlin.
Baier led all scorers with 19 points, while Welchlin put up 15 for the Panthers.
Segerstrom said EPC's 3-2 defense slowed down Royall's three-point shooters and that most of their buckets came off their transition offense, which was boosted by 20 EPC turnovers.
"I felt the guys responded well to the adversity," Segerstrom said, "and it was just a really intense game right off the bat."
Yet the Wolves found themselves down by 26 once the final buzzer sounded, and Segerstrom said he told his players what it would take to one day be able to take down a team like Royall in the playoffs.
"After the game I talked to the underclassmen a little bit about how in order to beat a team like Royall, you have to put the time in, and I think they get that," Segerstrom said. "I'm excited to see where they go with it. What's going to be a question mark for our guys is just how much time they put into the offseason."
There will be plenty of opportunities for players to step up onto the varsity team to help fill the deep hole of Baier's 16.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, but Segerstrom said he's excited for what's to come.
"There are some really good things coming up," Segerstrom said. "Even our younger guys at the freshman level and looking all the way down to our middle-schoolers, there's some really good potential and some solid groups coming through. It's just a matter of putting it all together.
"It will be challenging to replace our senior group, but our underclassmen will have to assume their roles, and I'm excited about that."
The Wolves conclude their season with an 8-15 record, say goodbye to two seniors, and are already thinking about shooting hoops under the summer sun in the months to come.
Scoring for the Wolves against New Lisbon: Baier 32; Maxwell 15; Zack Phillips 9; Glampe 7; Noah Gansluckner 6; Heath 1.
Scoring for the New Lisbon Rockets: Cody Haschke 28; Holden Rydmark 14; Coltin Zellmer 8; Robert Robinson 4; Eugene Taylor 3.
Scoring for the Wolves against Royall: Baier 19, Maxwell 10, Glampe 7, Phillips 3.
Scoring for the Royall Panthers: Tristan Welchlin 15; Seth Brown, Jaydyn Enzenbacher 10; Keith Travis 8; Dane Hyer 7; Keith Schnurr 6; Josh Kolodzinski 4; Nick Murray 3; Daniel Retzlaff 2.
Royall went on to beat Independence (No. 3, 15-9) 49-29 in the WIAA regional final game, and will see No. 1-seeded Bangor (23-1) on Thursday, March 8 at West Salem High School.