FREEDOM — Ripon entered Friday’s Eastern Valley Conference game with Freedom knowing if it won the rest of its regular season games the Tigers would clinch no worse than a share of the conference title.
Meanwhile, the Irish really had nothing of consequence to play for, other than to get on a roll before the postseason tips off.
While Ripon had more to play for being tied for first place, it was Freedom that took care of business in front of a raucous crowd. The Tigers suffered their worst loss of the season, 69-49, and might’ve seen their conference title hopes vanish.
“There was an Olympic quote talking about potential is one thing, but you got to be prepared with that potential,” Freedom coach John Van Rossum said. “We had the potential to play with Ripon, but we got to be prepared. I thought we had one of our best practices (Thursday) and it carried over into the start of the game and we maintained it all the way through the game.”
Freedom (15-5, 10-5) let Ripon (14-5, 10-4) know from the start it wasn’t going to be easy. The Irish scored the first seven points of the game forcing Ripon coach Dean Vander Plas to call a timeout.
“It’s easy to play well when the ball goes in the hole,” Van Rossum said. “That makes defense easier to play, it makes everything easier.”
In the teams’ first meeting of the season, Ripon won, 64-50, but Van Rossum said his team was better prepared this time.
“We were a little flat down there,” Van Rossum said. “We were taken aback by their quickness. We weren’t quite prepared. Film is one thing, live is another.”
Junior Logan Maulick spearheaded Freedom hitting 3-pointers and scoring in the lane.
“We were better prepared for what they were going to bring to us this time,” he said. “We shared the ball really well tonight. We played with a lot of effort.”
Freedom’s lead never was threatened and now has gotten hot at the right time, having won seven games in a row. The Irish feels it can be a factor in the Division 3 postseason and the way it played Friday it’s easy to see that.
Seeds for the playoffs come out this weekend, and the Irish likely will be a No. 2 seed behind conference foe Little Chute, which swept Freedom this season. But Van Rossum believes a win like this and a strong finish to the regular season next week could be the key to a deep postseason run.
“Absolutely,” Van Rossum said. “We’re looking forward to the postseason and seeing what we can do. We’re excited about the possibilities.”
Freedom goes on the road next week to New London and Waupaca and Maulick also feels Friday’s win was huge.
“We knew they were first in conference, so we wanted to make statement, because the playoffs are in a few weeks,” he said. “We wanted to play well.”
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