De Pere beats Arrowhead to win WIAA Division 1 state championship
Video: De Pere finishes unbeaten season with 69-49 victory over Hartland Arrowhead to win the WIAA Division 1 boys basketball state championship.
Mike Sherry, Green Bay Press-Gazette
MADISON – The top high school boys basketball team in the state, likely the best the Green Bay area ever has witnessed, forever will be remembered as a perfect one.
De Pere beat Hartland Arrowhead 69-49 in the WIAA Division 1 state championship Saturday at the Kohl Center, winning the program’s second title and the first since capturing a Class B championship in 1934.
But it’s so much sweeter than that.
The Redbirds are the first team in state history to go 30-0, even better than the Randolph squad that went 29-0 to win a D4 title in 2010 or a Neenah group that went 29-1 and captured a D1 championship in 2022.
De Pere also is the fifth school to go undefeated in D1 since the tournament moved to divisions in 1991, joining Milwaukee King (2003), Oshkosh West (2006), Germantown (2012, 2013) and Stevens Point (1994, 2016).
The Redbirds crushed inferior teams throughout the season but found ways to beat all the good ones, too.
They went 6-0 against D1 squads ranked in the top 10 at the end of the season, and just to leave no doubt, they also beat the top two D2 teams in state champion Pewaukee and Wisconsin Lutheran.
De Pere basketball team’s pregame pep talk
De Pere boys basketball players before the start of their WIAA Division 1 championship against Arrowhead on March 18, 2023.
Scott Venci, Green Bay Press-Gazette
Oh, and that 2011 triple-overtime heartbreaker De Pere had against Madison Memorial in the title game that kept the Redbirds in search of a long-awaited second championship for another decade? Perhaps it doesn’t have to feel quite as bad now.
This was the season of all seasons in De Pere, one that all future area teams will be compared to but might have difficulty matching.
“You feel that pressure,” senior guard Johnny Kinziger said. “The only way not to feel it is take it game by game. This whole year we wanted to stay in the present, we wanted to go off one game at a time.
“That’s how we got to 30-0.”
The Redbirds won two games here thanks in large part to their lockdown defense, which helped them overcome offensive lulls for stretches early in both contests.
The Warhawks didn’t score fewer than 59 points in any game this season before Saturday and were coming off a 73-61 semifinal win against Neenah.
They shot just 36.4% overall (16-for-44) and had six of their 10 turnovers in the decisive second half.
De Pere led 22-20 at halftime despite shooting 38.1% and going 3-for-8 from the line — it twice trailed by six points — all because its defense made things equally as difficult for Arrowhead.
The Redbirds missed 12 of their first 16 attempts before finally heating up late in the half.
De Pere hit four straight shots, including back-to-back 3-pointers from senior guard Gabe Herman, to take a 20-18 lead with 1 minute, 27 seconds remaining before intermission. It was their first advantage since scoring the opening basket of the game.
Everything changed after halftime.
De Pere scored 10 of the first 12 points to take a 32-22 advantage and led by 11 with 15:09 left. As quick as it built a double-figure lead, it evaporated almost as fast.
Arrowhead star and University of Wisconsin-Green Bay recruit Mac Wrecke scored six straight points for the Warhawks as part of a 12-2 spurt to cut the Redbirds’ lead to a single point, but De Pere wasn’t about to let them take back the lead.
It simply responded with a championship-defining run that turned a nail-biter into yet another rout.
De Pere scored eight straight points and 20 of the next 24 while holding Arrowhead without a field goal for almost 7 minutes.
In what felt like a blink of an eye, the slimmest of leads ballooned up to 16 with just more than 5 minutes remaining.
Game over. Perfect season complete.
“Our defense is so remarkable at how they get after it,” De Pere coach Brian Winchester said. “We pressure the ball. We are intense. We scramble.”
While everyone played a part in this win — Herman was a key on defense along with the other usual reliable defenders — the Redbirds’ Big 3 of Johnny Kinziger, sophomore guard Zach Kinziger and junior forward Will Hornseth shined on the big stage when the team needed them most.
The trio combined for 44 of the 47 points De Pere scored after the break, shooting 13-for-16 overall and 16-for-18 from the line.
Johnny Kinziger struggled in a semifinal win against Kettle Moraine but vowed to not let it happen again.
He started a bit slow against Arrowhead, but it would have been difficult to remember by the end after he finished with a game-high 24 points in 35 minutes.
Hornseth completed a dominating state run with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Zach Kinziger had 19 points and 6 rebounds.
The Redbirds ended up shooting 53.7% overall, including a sizzling 70% (14-for-20) in the second half.
The only thing to do at that point was wait for the final seconds to tick off.
“I think we went up about 15 maybe around 4 or 5 minutes left in the game,” Zach Kinziger said. “They had a timeout, and we got a stop and then hit some free throws and got another stop. I think I felt it at that point. We keep getting stops and keep making our free throws, it’s going to extend this game.
“It’s a very exciting and special moment for everybody.”
De Pere will look a bit different next season.
Johnny Kinziger will be playing at Illinois State, Hogan Demovsky at Lawrence University and Herman will turn to football at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. The team is saying goodbye to those three and fellow seniors Caleb Dietsche, Trey Plos, Ethan Ramos and Zack Kane.
But it’s safe to say they have made a lasting mark at De Pere.
“I think the special thing about this group, our team this year, they are all kids who have played in our booster club program since second grade,” Winchester said. “Hogan Demovsky, I think came in fifth grade, maybe fourth grade. All these kids grew up playing together. That is so unique.
“I’ve had kids transfer in before and there is nothing wrong with that. But just to get it done with the homegrown team that has played in your booster club all throughout, it’s amazing.”