Faced with an underdog status going into a WIAA Division 1 regional semifinal at De Pere on March 3, the Hamilton boys basketball team wasn't intimidated. Hamilton, the 11 seed, led by 6 points at halftime, but De Pere, the six seed, staged a second-half comeback to win, 62-54.
"I thought we did a decent job," Hamilton coach Andy Cerroni said. "We outrebounded them (23 to 19). They were an awful big team, and we did what we wanted to by taking away their bigs. They tried to establish an inside game. In the second half, they took the lead for the first time in the game with four minutes left. We had a couple possessions where we came up empty and a couple turnovers when we needed to execute. Down the stretch, we were playing catch-up a little bit. We were down, and we had to foul. To their credit, they hit their free throws down late. For the most part, we battled, we had kids executing the game plan, we do what we wanted to do and what we had to do. We did that but didn't make enough plays when we had to."
Free throws played a critical part in the game. De Pere attempted 39 free throws and converted 32 (82 percent). To Hamilton's credit, it also made 82 percent of its free throw attempts (18-for-22).
Freshmen Lucas Finnessy and J.T. Hoytnik scored 13 points each for HHS. Finnessy added six rebounds, and Hoytnik had four assists. Jordan Smith had 8 points and four steals.
Smith, a senior, led the team with 12.9 points per game this season.
"All those (seniors) played limited minutes last year," Cerroni said of this year's senior class. "I thought Jordy really took the team by the horns late in the season and stepped up his play. I thought that was a turning point for us when we kind of did that."
Other seniors on the team were Shamar Newman, Jake Kessenich, Brad Purko, Dylan Gissal and Erik Semb.
"I thought our seniors were great," Cerroni said. "They worked hard in the offseason to get ready for their senior year. I know there was some disappointment but ... they were good in the locker room, good at practice. They did a great job. We're going to miss them in the program."
Sophomore Tyler Ellingson was second on the team in scoring (8.8 ppg), Hoytnik was third (8.0 ppg) and Finnessy was fourth (7.0). All three, along with a number of other experienced underclassmen, will return next season. Zac Bagley and Ryan Filo also played important roles on the team this year and will be back in 2017-18.
"(The underclassmen) certainly gained some valuable experience," Cerroni said. "I thought we were playing pretty well at the end of the season. I know we went through a rough stretch in the middle, but we needed to bring in some of those younger kids to help us. I don't think anyone would disagree that they did help us. They made us better. We have to build on that. We can't rest on what they did this year, and they have to continue to get better because this conference is awful good."
The Chargers finished the season 10-13 overall and were fifth in the Greater Metro Conference with a 6-8 record.