Confidence grows with deep squad

Zach Stiewe tries to stay balanced against a swarm of Union Grove defenders Feb. 8. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

 

By Tim Wester

Sports Correspondent

Editor’s Note: The following story appears in the Feb. 9 edition of the Westine Report, which remains on area newsstands until Thursday, Feb. 15. Since this story was published, the Grove beat Waterford Feb. 8, 54-52, by overcoming a 29-21 halftime deficit. Jack Pettit led the way with 16 points, Luke Hansel added 14 and Riley Hale chipped in 10.

 

Since losing at Elkhorn a month ago, the Union Grove boys basketball team has been on a roll.

They’ve played better defense, gotten balanced scoring, and have been more physical against Southern Lakes Conference opponents.

Add it all up and the Broncos now sit atop the Southern Lakes Conference and control their own destiny with three conference games left.

“Our kids have gotten more confident each game since losing at Elkhorn,” Union Grove coach Dave Pettit said. “We haven’t done anything special, but our defense is better and we are getting balanced scoring and getting some much-needed rebounding and physical play from our two Lukes (Luke Hansel and (Luke Nelson).”

The team improvement was evident last week when the Broncos outscored visiting Wilmot 44-29 in the second half, en route to a 77-61 victory.

Sophomore forward Sam Rampulla, who is arguably the Broncos’ most improved player over the past month, had a team-high 21 points, while senior guard and St. Norbert College recruit Jack Pettit had 20, and seniors Jacob Ross and Riley Hale had 13 and 12 respectively to lead the offensive onslaught.

“At the start of the season, we were more of a two-man scoring threat with Jack and Riley,” Pettit said. “Other kids like Sam are stepping up and you can see their confidence increase.

“You want to have three double-digit scorers in a game to keep a defense off balance, but against Wilmot, we had four.”

Wilmot showed off its scoring arsenal in the first half, sinking six 3-pointers, en route to a 28-20 lead with 3:35 left.

But the Broncos answered with a 13-4 run and closed out the half with a 33-32 lead.

“I told the guys we were fortunate to be up one at half, but I thought we weathered the storm well,” Pettit said. “We needed to do a better job on the defensive end in the second half.”

The Broncos never lost the lead in the second half and maintained a modest 58-53 lead with 5:10 left.

Rampulla then ignited a game-changing 10-0 run with six points to build the lead to 68-53 with 2:26 left. The Panthers never drew closer than 15 the rest of the game.

“We’ve adjusted our offense to keep Sam closer to the basket,” Pettit said. He’s getting some nice post moves and cleaning up shots and then stepping out and hitting outside shots to pull other teams’ bigs out from under the basket.”

With improved inside play complementing their talented guards, the Broncos are playing their best basketball of the season. The Grove hosts Racine Lutheran in its final non-conference game of the regular season before hosting Elkhorn on Tuesday.

The Broncos then finish up next week at Lake Geneva Badger and then at home against Westosha Central in what could be a contest for the Southern Lakes Conference championship.

Conference championship aside, Pettit just wants his team to focus on each game individually and not look past any team.

“I know it sounds cliché, but we have to take it one game at a time down the stretch,” Pettit said. “It’s great to control our own destiny, but we don’t have a large margin for error, so every game is important.”

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