WHITE BEAR LAKE — It was a packed gym and a great show, but Stillwater was chasing a different outcome while falling to the second-seeded Bears 52-50 in the Section 4AAAA semifinals on Saturday, March 11 at White Bear Lake High School.
White Bear Lake’s Jeremy Kolb scored on a deft pass from Jack Janicki with two seconds remaining to provide the game-winner and send the Bears into the section finals for the first time in more than two decades.
The third-seeded Ponies, after advancing to the semifinals with their first postseason victory since 2015, finished the season with a 18-10 record to finish with the program’s most wins since finishing with the same record in 2014-15.
And it was a memorable battle for what is believed to be the 220th meeting in this long-running rivalry. The teams split during the regular season, but there was more at stake than the Old Oil Can traveling trophy that returned this season as the Bears advanced to the section finals against top-seeded East Ridge on Thursday, March 16.
“I’ll get over it and appreciate what we all went through with that experience at some point, but its still stings that we’re done with these seniors,” Ponies coach Brady Hannigan said. “It was a real special year to be with these guys. It was fun.”
Arguably the top two players in the Suburban East Conference, Janicki and Stillwater’s Max Shikenjanski put on a show in the first half. Janicki was hitting shots from all over the court while scoring 14 of his 21 points before halftime. Shikenjanski also carried the load for the Ponies, while finding his way to the basket for 16 of his game-high 22 points in the first half.
It was tight most of the way before a late surge by the Bears pushed them in front 31-25 at the intermission.
“I thought Janicki hitting those tough shots in the first half made a huge difference,” Hannigan said. “They pulled away a little bit and he hits some really hard shots.”
The Ponies climbed back and the teams traded the lead a few times down the stretch. Shikenjanski hit one of two free throws after a steal with just over a minute remaining to pull Stillwater even at 50-all.
White Bear Lake ran the clock down for a final attempt and when Janicki was cut off by Shikenjanski, he slipped a pass to Kolb cutting to the basket. Stillwater defender Brett Hilde had a hand on the ball, but it wasn’t enough to knock it loose from Kolb as he quickly tossed up the deciding basket from close range.
“We were trying to not allow the ball to get into his hands, but he’s so good,” Hannigan said of Janicki, who plans to join the University of Wisconsin basketball program as a walk-on. “Brett got a finger on the ball, but it was just a perfect pass. If it was an inch to his right it’s getting deflected out of bounds. It was great defense by Max forcing the ball out of his hands, it was just a perfect pass.”
Tanner Thomson made four 3-pointers and added 18 points for the Ponies as he and Shikenjanski accounted for 40 of the team’s 50 points.
Stillwater knew Janicki would get his points, but nothing came easy. Kolb finished with 12 points while Jack Misgen added 11 for the Bears.
Misgen and 6-foot-8 post player Wyatt Hawks combined for 34 points in their game against Stillwater on Feb. 2, but they were held to 16 this time around.
“Our goal was to contain Misgen and take out Wyatt Hawks,” Hannigan said. ”I thought we did that.”
Hawks did not play in White Bear Lake’s section quarterfinal victory over Woodbury, which was the team’s first postseason victory in more than a decade.
“We knew he was playing when we saw him suited up when we walked in the gym, but I assumed he would be playing regardless,” Hannigan said.
His size was a concern for Stillwater and he finished with a game-high 10 rebounds, but he was held in check offensively and couldn’t prevent Shikenjanski from getting to the basket consistently in the first half.
“(Tyler) Wiese gave us good minutes,” Hannigan said. “He does a ton of little things for us. He’s just a veteran guy who has been playing since his sophomore year and we didn’t ever have to worry about him doing the wrong thing. He was defending Hawks and he came up with some big offensive rebounds for us.”
White Bear Lake made seven 3-pointers, compared to five for the Ponies, and also held an edge at the free throw line. The Bears made 7 of 10 free throws, compared to just 3 of 7 for Stillwater.
“They just hit a couple more shots than us,” Hannigan said.
Shooting percentages, rebounding and turnovers were similar for both teams so it was not surprising it went down to the wire, Hannigan suggested.
Janicki broke the White Bear Lake career scoring record during the game and Shikenjanski is Stillwater’s all-time leading scorer by a comfortable margin. Both have been four-year starters while contributing to a resurgence for both programs.
“That was the most electric game I’ve ever coached in,” Hannigan said. “It was a great atmosphere, a great crowd and a great game for a great rivalry. It had it all — and two great players going at it.
“Jack and Max have had careers that have kind of been tied to each other and two rivals who have built it up to be competitive here, so of course it had to go down to the last second.”
But the coach has a soft spot for each of the seniors who persevered through some ups and downs over the past three seasons.
“This is a senior class that when they were sophomores were 4-15,” Hannigan said. “That was the COVID year and to go from that while sophomores to 18-10 overall, that’s a huge jump in those three years. They mean the world to me and this program and they helped turn this around a little bit. You can’t replace Max, the guy that ends as the career leader in points, assists and steals and is a top-six rebounder. We have four seniors that contributed, but we still played 8 to 10 guys throughout the year so we get to return six-plus guys who have varsity experience for next year.
“This senior group, if there’s anything the kids below could have taken away it’s that I never had to get on any of the four for giving effort,” Hannigan said. “Wiese his a high motor and he’s out-working his size and (Brady) Benning was always the first to hit the floor for a loose ball. Thomson was often guarding their second best player and he’s smart and works on the defensive end. Whenever people look at Max, I don’t think they appreciate how good of a defender he is while also trying to bear the load of scoring. Ninety-eight percent of the time he was guarding Janicki and if I didn’t put Max on the best player he’d be mad at me.”
And he’s hoping the team finds itself more consistently in postseason battles like the one against the Bears going forward.
“Our JV team went 18-8 and the sophomore team went 16-10,” Hannigan said. “ The freshmen took second place in the conference and won the conference tournament, so to finish in the top four in the conference at all of our levels, it’s the most successful ninth grade through varsity season we’ve had since I’ve been here. All four of these seniors are irreplaceable, but we’ve competed at all of our levels to make sure the future looks promising as well.”
Stillwater 25 25 — 50
White Bear Lake 31 21 — 52
Stillwater (pts): Henry Zollar 2, Joe Hoheisel 1, Tanner Thomson 18, Lake de Jongh 3, Tyler Wiese 4 and Max Shikenjanski 22.
White Bear Lake: Jack Janicki 21, Jeremy Kolb 12, Jack Misgen 11, Wyatt Hawks 5 and Zach Nelson 3.
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at email@example.com
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