The preferred shot was set up for Gavin Wetzel in the paint, but the Aquinas High School basketball team had plenty of confidence in the second option, too.
So when Wetzel had to look for an open teammate late in a second overtime against West Salem on Saturday, the excitement from the bench could be felt as the ball landed in the hands of Joe Savoldelli.
Savoldelli then buried a 3-pointer from the right corner to give the Blugolds the lead for good in a 61-56 victory during the only game played at the Midwest Players Classic held at the La Crosse Center.
Savoldelli’s 3-pointer gave Aquinas a 57-56 lead, and Jackson Flottmeyer and Quinn Miskowski added two free throws apiece to put the finishing touches on the victory, which is a significant one for Aquinas (4-6).
“We really took a step forward as a team,” said Aquinas coach Brad Reinhart, whose Blugolds had lost three of four and were coming off a 69-36 loss at Holmen. “We shared the basketball, and our execution on offense was much better than it’s been.
“We also generated a lot of intensity defensively today, especially in the second half and overtimes.”
Wetzel tied the game at 48 with 21 seconds left in regulation to force the first overtime, and Savoldelli’s putback with 1:35 left in the first overtime forced the second. Jack Hehli missed a 3-pointer for West Salem at the end of regulation, and teammate Brady Niemeier missed at the buzzer to end the first overtime.
Facing the 57-56 deficit after Savoldelli’s 3 in the second overtime, the Panthers (7-5) set up a 3-point attempt for Josh Hauser, but it was off the mark. Jackson Flottmeyer grabbed the rebound for the Blugolds and hit two free throws after he was fouled with 11.4 seconds to go.
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The Panthers turned the ball over on a carry during their final possession to tie the game.
Wetzel had 18 points and 17 rebounds — eight on the offensive end — for Aquinas as it countered West Salem’s height and ability in the paint. Miskowski, who scored 17 points, had five steals in the second half to keep the Panthers out of an offensive rhythm.
“We knew (Wetzel) was a good rebounder and was going to be physical,” West Salem coach Steve Kastenschmidt said. “We needed to box him out and limit their second chances at points or it was going to be hard for us to compete.
“That was a huge factor for us.”
Sophomore CJ McConkey scored a team-high 17 points for West Salem, which also received 16 from sophomore Jack Hehli.
Savoldelli, who scored eight points and made two 3-pointers, said he was ready for the shot that gave his team its final lead.
“We were just looking for a good look (at the basket),” Savoldelli said. “Anyone could have taken that shot and made it, but I was ready when (Wetzel) got the ball to me.”
Wetzel’s ability to dominate inside is what kept the Blugolds in position to win.
“We talked about winning the game in the paint, and Gav had a lot to do with that,” Reinhart said. “We had to defend and rebound in the paint if we wanted to win.”
The game was the only one played in the 10th version of the Midwest Players Classic after the weather forced the schedule to drop from eight games to four on Friday. Teams from the Madison area decided Saturday morning that they couldn’t make the trip after overnight snow and ice.
Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX