By Jennifer Eisenbart
Like in every close game this season, the Burlington High School boys basketball team saw itself ahead by a lot – and saw the lead dwindle to a little Friday night.
And like in every close game this year, the Demons found a way to close out the game, earning themselves a third straight Southern Lakes Conference title in the process.
Hosting Wilmot Friday with the outright title on the line, BHS jumped out to a 30-18 lead after the first half, and then held off a determined Panther rally for a 59-51 victory.
BHS finished the regular season 17-5 overall, and 13-1 in the SLC – two games ahead of Wilmot and four ahead of Waterford.
And while it wasn’t always pretty Friday night, it was an important victory.
“That’s exactly what it is: it’s finding a way to get it done,” said BHS coach Steve Berezowitz. “It doesn’t seem to be really pretty or easy, but somehow they keep plugging away.
“Our goal was to win the Southern Lakes Conference this year,” “I wasn’t sure, with the experience we had coming back, if it was possible.”
Even a week ago, the Demons were still a game back of Wilmot. Then the Broncos hit a buzzer-beater to upend the Panthers, and the Demons found themselves in a position Friday to win the SLC title outright.
Berezowitz said Friday night was more about how his team wanted to play than thinking about an outright title after a 54-49 loss at Wilmot Jan. 4.
“I don’t think that we proved, the first time we played Wilmot … we didn’t play our best,” Berezowitz explained. “It left kind of a bad taste in our mouth.”
The Demons came out and led the entire game Friday, including keeping the lead between about 8-12 points for most of the first half.
But the Panthers made a matchup change in the second half, and Berezowitz said it shut down what the Demons had been making work. BHS stretched the lead to 40-26 about halfway through the third quarter before Wilmot called a time out, and the Panthers responded with a run.
After two quick Wilmot buckets in the fourth, the lead was down to 42-39.
“That just kind of slowed us down a little bit,” Berezowitz said of the personnel change.
The Panthers were still within five late, before Jake Reetz hit a fast break layup, and then got fouled in the process. He hit the free throw to make the score 52-44, and things looked under control.
Forced to foul, the Panthers saw BHS hit almost all the shots, but then sunk a banked-in 3-pointer to close within 54-51 with 55.2 seconds left.
From there, BHS knew it needed stops.
“We have a little thing where we try to get some defensive stops,” Berezowitz said. “We only had to get three defensive stops to kind of put the game away.
“They ended up fouling us,” the coach added. “Jimmy Penzel was big, Carson (Biedrzycki) hit some big free throws, Jake Reetz had an ‘and one.’”
Biedrzycki was huge again for the Demons, finishing with a game-high 26 points. Reetz added 11 points, while Penzel pitched in 10 points and a team-best nine rebounds.
Nate Hensel led three Wilmot players in double figures with 14.
The Demons will host Muskego in the WIAA Division 1 regional semifinals Friday at 7 p.m.
The two teams haven’t met the last few years, since BHS left the Southeast Conference. Now the Warriors are in the Classic 8, and have a 6-16 – 3-11 in the Classic 8.
Berezowitz warned it was a new season, though.
“They’re athletic,” said Berezowitz. “We’re trying to get through some tape on them, but they’re athletic.”
Berezowitz added that his team would be doing its research on the Warriors.
“I haven’t watched enough on them yet,” the coach said. “I have to get a little bit more of a feel.”