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The Post-Crescent

Mr. Basketball finalists Lorenz, Birkholz lead Brillion, Lakeside Lutheran into state basketball semifinal matchup

By Mike Sherry, Appleton Post-Crescent,

2023-03-15
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BRILLION – The trip to the Kohl Center didn’t end well for the Brillion boys basketball team last year, but the experience has been paying dividends this season.

The Lions are returning to the WIAA Division 3 state tournament and will play Lakeside Lutheran at approximately 3:15 p.m. Thursday in a state semifinal game.

Brillion, with a 27-1 record, is the No. 2 seed and head coach Chad Shimek said the Lions, who lost to West Salem 71-61 in the semifinals last year, are leaning on that experience.

It’s different already,” Shimek said. “Any team that has been down here in back-to-back seasons, they will tell you they know what today was going to be like. They knew what last night was going to be like. So they’ve got a little bit of an understanding of what this week is going to look like and I think it just has to help you put your focus a little bit more on the game and your opponent. We’re trying to lean on that experience to help us this time around.”

If Brillion can beat third-seeded Lakeside Lutheran (25-3), it will play top seed West Salem (27-1) or No. 4 seed Milwaukee Academy of Science (18-6) in Saturday afternoon’s championship game.

The Lions, whose only loss is a 54-53 setback against Mosinee on Feb. 20, are making their fifth trip to state and seeking their second title. They were Division 3 champions in 2012.

Shimek said last year’s trip to state not only gave Brillion a blueprint for how to handle state tournament week, but the loss to West Salem also exposed where the Lions needed to get better.

“There’s always that pressure to return, but people say all the time pressure is a privilege. We knew that coming in and we knew it would be different this year,” Shimek said. “And so we really improved in the offseason. Last year we played West Salem, who is in the field this year, and they’re a really good team, really strong. So that obviously told us that we’ve got to get stronger and we have to improve, and I thought our guys did a great job of that.”

Brillion, which won the Eastern Wisconsin Conference title, advanced to state with a 77-73 victory over Xavier in the sectional final Saturday at Oshkosh North.

Jeremy Lorenz, who will play in college at Wofford University, scored 24 points in the sectional final. Grady Geiger added 21 points, while Parker Braun and Bennett Olson each scored 11. The Lions were 10-for-16 on 3-point attempts.

The 6-foot-8 Lorenz leads Brillion with 21.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game and was the Eastern Wisconsin Conference player of the year.

“Jeremy is a dynamic player,” Shimek said. “Got a little bit of a Giannis feel when you watch him. He can shoot from the outside. He blocks shots. He can cover a lot of ground on a Euro step. Just a pretty dynamic kid to have. Obviously, all teams got somebody they lean on and he’s definitely one for us.”

Geiger, a 6-6 junior, averages 12 points a game. Seniors Caeden Holly and Braun average 9.2 and 9.1 points per game, respectively. Braun was first-team all-EWC, while Holly and Geiger earned second-team honors.

“We’ve got a pretty good group of seniors that obviously have played together, like most teams that get to the state tournament,” Shimek said. “We just play pretty good defense. We take care of the basketball. We’re playing good basketball right now. Other than that, I think we’re pretty much like every other team. You’re at a point right now where you’re doing things well or else you wouldn’t get to this point in your trip.”

Lakeside Lutheran is returning to state for the first time since 2011, when it lost in the semifinals. The Warriors are led by 6-4 senior Levi Birkholz, who averages 21.9 points per game. He scored 41 points in a 68-65 sectional final win over Edgewood.

Levi Birkholz is a really solid player,” Shimek said. “Levi played AAU with a couple guys on our team, so I’m pretty familiar with him as a player. He’s a dynamic player. Anybody that can score 41 points in a sectional final obviously is a really good player.”

Birkholz, who was the player of the year in the Capitol-North Conference, has committed to play in college at The Citadel. He and Lorenz are both finalists for the Mr. Basketball Award, presented by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association to the top senior player in the state.

“He’s probably a one-of-a-kind-type player,” Lakeside Lutheran coach Todd Jahns said of Birkholz. “Every coach says they get one that’s very special and I think Levi is certainly that for me. He’s had a stellar high school career. The thing for Levi this year that’s been different is Levi has involved his team and made his team better. I think that was the conversation we had coach to player and also the team — your abilities are without question, but we need this to be a great team and you need to win with your teammates, you need to have your teammates help you and your teammates need to know that they need to be a part of this.

“I think Levi has taken that to heart and in many ways made our team much better by involving them throughout the year. Having said that, I think in the game (Saturday) if there’s ever a time Levi needed to put a team on his back that was it and he did it in a way that was special. But even so, within that, he involved his team. But he put us on his back as only a player of his ability can.”

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