The magnitude of the match up between these two Western Michigan powers was evident by the capacity crown on hand (including Michigan assistant Chuck Swenson). Ordinarily, hosting such a match-up renders a sizable home court advantage. However, the Wyoming Park fans descended in mass on the South Christian gym and were almost equal in number to the home team fans! The visitors had a lot to cheer for early as Park got out to a quick 4-0 lead while holding South scoreless over the first few minutes. The Sailors finally got on the board when center Ben Fredrick knocked down the home team’s first bucket down low. The defensive intensity and nerves on both sides grew, and the score didn’t change for next four minutes. That’s when the composure of All-American Drew Neitzel came to the forefront as he led Park on a tear in the waning moments. The future Spartan point guard put on a show with a few nice dishes and an array of sweet offensive moves ranging from runners in the lane to knifing drives to the basket. He keyed a 10-0 run that made the score 14-2 with a little under a minute left. South would stop the bleeding with two free throws, but Neitzel came right back down and nailed a turnaround jumper as time expired to bring his 1st quarter tally to 10 and give Park a 16-4 lead at the end of 1. Many were thinking that this game had the makings of the last encounter between the two squads. However, South Christian Sophomore David Kool indicated his team wasn’t amongst the doubters. “We were saying that we came back last time when they had us down by 25 and tonight we weren’t down nearly as bad,” Kool said. “We knew we were still in it.”
Neitzel squares for the three over Kool
David was pressing early in the game and he went scoreless in the first quarter. Much of that had to do with his assignment of keying his team’s defense of Neitzel. “We had David man to man on Drew but we played a lot of zone too,” said Sailor coach Ken Hiskes. “He was at the top of our zone on Drew so we played him about half and half, man and zone. David is our best defender and he knows he’s going to get the other teams best player every time.” Fortunately for his team, David looked to have settled down offensively by the start of the second.
Kool knocked down his first points of the game on a runner to make the score 16-6. A couple of minutes later he nailed another basket at 4:45 to cut the deficit to single digits at 18-10. That’s when the basketball equivalent of “whatever you can do I can do better” seemed to have begun between the two stars. Drew Neitzel came right back and hit a step back 3 off of a nasty pass fake to make it 21-10 with 4:15 to go. Not to be out-done, Kool answered with his own 3 to cut the lead back to 8, 21-13. The life shown by the home team pepped up the Sailor faithful, and their enthusiasm helped key a 7-0 run that cut the lead to a single point, 21-20. “I was forcing it in the first quarter,” Kool said. “I didn’t have my whole game going, but my teammates made some plays, we got the crowd going, and I got right in it.” Park stopped the run with a quick deuce, but South kept applying the pressure. They finally took their first lead a minute later when center Kyle Potgeter went down the lane for the bucket with 1:30 remaining to make the score 24-23. Still, Neitzel continued to show his poise and hit one of the Vikings’ final two baskets to give his team a 27-24 lead at intermission and send him into the half with a game high 17 points.
Kool splits the defense
Neitzel came out of the locker room and picked up right where he left off, converting a baseline drive to the hole to make it 29-24. The back and forth between he and Kool then re-commenced as the sophomore star answered on the other end to cut the lead back to 3 points. South converted another bucket to get back within 1, but Neitzel again slammed the door shut. He came down court and nailed a triple with 2 men in his face to make it 32-28. Once again, as if it were scripted in a movie, Kool responded with a bucket in the lane to make it 32-30 with 6 minutes left. Park subsequently went on a 10-4 run over the next few minutes make the score 42-34 and forced coach Hiskes to call timeout with 3:13 remaining. Out of the timeout Kool stopped the bleeding by knifing to the bucket to cut the deficit to 6. By that point in the game Neitzel seemed plain unstoppable, and he knocked down a fade-away bucket to close the 3rd, giving the Vikings a 46-38 lead heading into the final stanza.
Neitzel tries to get to the hole on Kool
Neitzel continued his shot-making display early in the 4th when he rubbed off a screen on an inbound pass and nailed a 3 pointer to make it 49-41 with 6:29 on the clock. The Sailors showed their scrappiness by picking up a few loose balls and converting 2 buckets to cut the lead to 4 when junior Jordan Torres made the first of two huge plays that would swing the momentum for good. On determined right-to-left drive to the hole, Torres was nailed in the act of shooting but was still able to convert the lay-up. He nailed the free throw to cut the Viking lead to 1 with 3:56 remaining. After the teams exchanged two-point plays, Torres drove to the hole again and converted yet another and-1 opportunity to give the home team a lead again. Park tied the game once more, but 3 tough fouls down the stretch, which sent starters Micah Chapell and Cameron Dampier to the bench and negated an and-1 opportunity for Neitzel, gave the Sailors the opportunity to ice the game from the line. South capitalized at the stripe and finished the Vikings off, 61-57. Kool finished with 19 points while Neitzel finished with 37.
Kool takes it up strong!
We’ll have more pictures and a full scouting report on David Kool later in the week.