Tigers denied shot at state tournament
WIAA DIVISION 4 BOYS BASKETBALL SECTIONAL PLAYOFFS
Coronavirus pandemic halts team’s season
By Casey Krautkramer
The Stratford varsity boys basketball team’s season didn’t prematurely end because it lost to a physical opponent on the court, because it defeated Auburndale in a WIAA Division 4 sectional semifinal on Thursday. The Tigers’ season came to a sudden halt, rather, because of an invisible virus that attacks people’s bodies and then becomes a disease.
Stratford’s team discovered late Thursday night after it had just beaten Auburndale, 66-50, in the Wausau West gym that its season was over. The WIAA determined all remaining boys basketball sectional finals and girls basketball state tournament games would be canceled in response to evolving concerns over the spread of a disease called COVID-19. Stratford was supposed to play Iola-Scandinavia in the sectional championship on Saturday, for a shot at advancing to the state tournament for the first time in program history.
Tiger boys basketball players were heartbroken on Friday morning, after they’d found out all the hard work and sweat they’ve exerted during practices and games this season still wasn’t enough to give them a chance at playing in the state tournament. Center Ben Barten was one of three Stratford senior players who expressed their displeasure on not being able to continue their high school basketball careers.
“I feel bad for our team and every other team that was still in the running to win a state championship,” Barten said. “It’s a very tough time for a lot of people, and I hope this type of thing never happens again to other deserving seniors.”
Stratford’s squad did created school history this season by becoming the first basketball team, among both varsity boys and girls, to conclude the year with an undefeated record. The Tigers might have concluded their season with a 24-0 record, but it’s little solace for the players like senior forward Vaughn Breit who were determined to win the first boys basketball sectional championship in school history.
“The WIAA knows more than I do about this coronavirus situation, but as a senior knowing your season has to end like this is sickening and it feels unfair for all of us who worked so hard to get to this point,” Breit said.
Senior guard Chandler Schmidt, just like his teammates, wasn’t ready for this season to end.
“We obviously are heartbroken; I had a blast playing alongside this special group of guys,” Chandler said. “We worked our tails off this year to reach our goal of playing in the state tournament. Words can’t describe the hurt our team is going through right now, but I want to thank our coaches and fans for supporting us all year through this special season.”
Stratford faces adversity
The WIAA alerted high schools on Thursday morning, before their boys sectional semifinal basketball games began at 7 p.m., that it would only allow 88 fans for each team inside the gyms. The Stratford and Auburndale varsity boys basketball teams ran onto the Wausau West court amid no pep bands blaring and cheering from only a fraction of the fans who’d normally attend a big playoff game between schools only 17 miles apart.
Stratford head coach Curt Schmidt admitted it was a hectic day for the players leading up to the start of their sectional semifinal against Auburndale in the Wausau West gym.
“It was a zoo in the school this morning when student fans found out they couldn’t come to the game; our players were disappointed the entire student body couldn’t attend their game,” coach Schmidt said. “It was definitely the hardest morning on the day of a big game like this that I’ve ever experienced in my coaching career.”
A dozen high school students from Stratford and Auburndale stood behind their respective players’ benches in the Wausau West gym. Students like Dane Poppy, Kamryn Schueller, Paige Kolbeck and Oscar Telschow cheered as loudly as they could for their beloved Tigers’ squad but the fan atmosphere in the gym just wasn’t the same as it normally would be for a major basketball playoff game.
Stratford was sluggish to start the game, because players like Vaughn Breit admitted afterwards it was tough to get motivated to perform in front of a few hundred fans, even though it was a very important playoff game. It was quiet enough during the game where fans could hear the players’ sneakers squeak as they ran around on the basketball court. “This game was a little odd because there was only a small crowd,” Breit said, while sporting his usual crazy socks. “We play so well when we have our normal large crowd behind us, so the momentum just wasn’t there right away for our team.”
Ben Barten’s two straight offensive rebound putbacks, along with Breit’s basket, gave Stratford a quick 6-0 lead against Auburndale. The Apaches answered, however, with point guards Cooper Weinfurter and Hunter Wright draining three pointers to tie the game.
Wright’s two straight baskets gave Auburndale its largest lead of the game, 25-17, with six minutes left before halftime. Breit converted a traditional three-point play and a pair of free throws after he was fouled on the Tigers’ next offensive possession to cut into the Apaches’ lead at 25-22. Fletcher Raab’s basket gave the Apaches a 33-32 halftime advantage, as Breit’s threequarters court heave at the buzzer fell short.
Stratford’s coaching staff made some adjustments in its game plan during halftime, and it showed in the second half because the Tigers were much more aggressive on defending Auburndale’s three-point shooters. Stratford senior guard Teddy Redman stole the ball and he was fouled on his layup attempt to begin the second half. He calmly sank both free throws to WIAA DIVISION 4 BOYS BASKETBALL SECTIONAL PLAYOFFS
give the Tigers a 35-32 lead against the Apaches.
The Tigers later went on a 6-0 run, capped off by Barten corralling a loose ball and making a basket to give the team a 51-39 advantage and force Apaches head coach Chad Weinfurter into calling a timeout. Stratford later extended its lead to 61-43 on Chandler Schmidt’s pair of bonus free throws.
Barten, who’ll play for the Division 1 Wisconsin Badgers football team in fall, was too big of a body for Auburndale’s players to handle in the post. Barten and Breit were too dominating near the basket for Auburndale to stop, as both of them paced the Tigers with 21 points apiece. Breit also led Stratford with 11 rebounds, nine of which were on defense, and three blocked shots.
Chandler Schmidt added 10 points, and he led the team with five assists. Redman paced the Tigers with four steals, while senior guard Dawson Danen played a solid game overall with nine points and eight rebounds.
Stratford shot a dismal two of 14, or 14 percent, from three-point range in its win against Auburndale. The Tigers did, however, make 21 of 33 twopoint shots for 63 percent from the floor. Barten said his Stratford team persevered by defeating Auburndale in unusual circumstances, with only a certain number of fans allowed to watch the game in person because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was different playing this basketball game because there are normally over 1,000 fans watching a sectional semifinal, but when we came onto the court there was only about 200 people here,” Barten said. “This game had a different feel to it and I did not care for it. Obviously, it was a special game and we needed to find our own energy, but it’s also nice having a large crowd in the gym that has our backs each game.”
The following Stratford varsity boys basketball seniors have played their final game donning the Tigers uniform: Teddy Redman, Kam Kopf, Chandler Schmidt, Dawson Danen, Tayler Lappe, Vaughn Breit, Ben Barten and Nick Fox.
Stratford returns the following junior boys basketball players who’ll be seniors on the team next season: Riley Bauman, Cody Miller, Kale Weisenberger, Max Vanderhoof, Jake Skroch and Keegan Weiler; The Tigers will also welcome back current sophomore boys basketball players Kaden Griesmer, Caden Bruesewitz, Camden Daul and Zack Seitz next season.