There would be no upset in the state semifinal this year for upstart Mukwonago, as the MHS boys basketball team never quite found a rhythm against Neenah (26-1) and fell by a 58-41 count at the Kohl Center in Madison on Friday.
One year after taking down Milwaukee King in the semi and reaching the state championship game, the Indians (18-9) came up short in a bid to rematch with Germantown in the Division 1 final Saturday.
Rockets' big man Matt Heldt scored early and often, racking up a game-high 27 points and proving an unsolvable matchup for Mukwonago. When MHS did collapse on the 6-10 junior, the Rockets buried one of their 6 three-pointers.
"They have a tremendous program, and we knew that going in," said Mukwonago coach Jim Haasser. "We watched a lot of film, and in high school, sometimes it's hard to get an accurate gauge of how quick kids are and how fluid they are with the basketball in their hands. Sometimes it's surprising when you hit the floor. Tonight didn't have that feel ... I thought we competed hard, but they shot the ball so well in first half. We weren't able to take advantage of (rebounding) like we try to do on the nightly basis. We tried to change the game with defensive pressure, but we weren't able to get any of that."
Aaron Nixon scored 15 points in his final game at Mukwonago after getting recognized as honorable-mention All State by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association earlier in the evening. Dominic Cizauskas finished with 6 points and 8 rebounds, landing at 1,031 points for his career, third behind Tom Kukla (1,066) and Derek Hasanoglu (1,054) on the school's all-time leaderboard.
Neenah point guard Adam Pohlman, a first-team All State choice, catalyzed the Rockets attack with 7 points and 8 assists.
"It was fun playing him; I wasn't expecting him to be able to get out of basically every single trap we threw at him," Nixon said. "He was a little quicker than we thought he was going to be."
Neenah jumped out on Mukwonago early, with Heldt notching his team's final 10 points of the first quarter and 12 overall in his team's 17-7 run through the opening period. He closed the quarter with a 3-point attempt that plopped on the back rim and dropped through. Neenah hit 7 of 10 shots in the first period, while Mukwonago made just 2 of 12.
For the game, Mukwonago hit just 27 percent.
The Indians hit 7 of 8 free throws late in the second quarter to linger within 26-19 at the break despite a 4 of 17 shooting performance in the first half.
Heldt wasn't done, however. He scored the first 6 points of the third quarter, and Mukwonago didn't hit back-to-back field goals without a Neenah score in between until Nixon scored two straight to pull his team within 52-34 in the fourth.
When Heldt scored and drew contact with 5:18 to play, he put his team ahead, 48-28, and ran his point total to 27.
"We thought Big (Dan) Gerrits, at 7 feet, might be a disruption that Matt maybe hadn't seen before," Haasser said. "We thought that would be an interesting matchup. (Ryan) Wagner is such a great athlete, and we thought with his footwork and quickness, we might be able to keep (Heldt) off balance and at least force tough catches."
The loss closed down a decorated three-year run for players like Nixon and Cizauskas, players who had been key for the football team that advanced to Level 4 this past fall and made three straight sectional finals in basketball, with two state appearances.
"The community getting behind our back has been awesome the last two years," Nixon said. "Our peers are always congratulating us and wishing us good luck. All the little kids, when we see them, come up to us and talk basketball with us ... It's a great experience and I'm blessed to be a part of it."
Haasser added, "There's a whole bunch of junior Indians back home — actually, they're probably at the hotel in the swimming pool right now — but they're wishing they are the next Aaron Nixon, Danny Gerrits ... They're ready to get after it for us. It's certainly been a lot of fun."
Neenah will face Germantown (25-2) at approximately 8:15 p.m. Saturday. The Warhawks dispatched Milwaukee King (24-3) in a battle that figured to be a close call between superior teams earlier Friday, 77-60.
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