Mason Wolfe cuts through traffic on his way to the hoop on Saturday against Hayward. Wolfe ran the floor well for the T-Birds in their 67-62 win over the Hurricanes.
Mason Wolfe cuts through traffic on his way to the hoop on Saturday against Hayward. Wolfe ran the floor well for the T-Birds in their 67-62 win over the Hurricanes.
Guts and persistence paid off for the Lakeland boys’ basketball team on the road at Wausau West on Thursday night in a close and hard-fought 61-58 victory on the road.

Lakeland lost a lead and got punched in the teeth in the first half, in which the Warrior’s Mitchell Zaherones went off for 17 points to fuel a 13-0 West run into halftime.

But down 30-23 at the break, the Thunderbirds were far from knocked out and they clawed their way back into the game.

“We fought the whole way in the second half, “ Lakeland head coach Rich Fortier said. “We probably took our first lead of the second half with a minute to go.”

They stayed in the game by feeding Michael Ouimette down low where he was putting in shots off the post or getting fouled and doing damage at the line. Ouimette got 13 of his 23 points in the second half, including six free throws.

Jonathan Juries was also at the line a half dozen times in the second half and scored 12 of his 22 after halftime, including a couple threes. 

But this all set up Mason Wolfe, who would put them over the top.  

With a minute to go, he made a steal and put it right back in himself to take a one point lead, but he was also fouled on the shot and he made his free throw to put the T-Birds up two, a lead they would not relinquish.

“From there we play with the lead. They had to chase us,” Fortier said, who notes the psychological effect on opponents when taking a lead late.

“That flips their mind, they think, ‘Oh my god, we’re down now when we’ve been winning this whole half.’ Everything gets tighter.”

But Lakeland stayed loose, held onto the lead and completed the comeback 61-58.

That composure at the end of the game would be called upon Saturday night against Hayward.

Lakeland 67, Hayward 62

In that contest against Hayward, it was Lakeland that led most of the game and had to fight off a scrappy Hurricane team which would not go away.

But since Lakeland was just in that situation, they knew the ferocity with which a comeback can be mounted and they were ready for it, prevailing 67-62 for their second straight victory.

The Thunderbirds were up by as many as 17 in the first half and took a 34-28 lead into half time thanks, again, to dominance by Ouimette on the block. He had 10 points in the first.

“He is a beast when he catches it deep like that,” Fortier said. “There’s not a lot of guys that can do much with him when he catches it deep like that.”

Jurries, normally an outside threat, was also key down low where he cut, slashed, and posted up for 10 first half points.

But after the break, Hayward kept battling to narrow the lead. Senior guard Riley Dobbs hit a pair of three’s midway through the second to cut the lead to six.

Lakeland had just as much fight in them, especially senior forward Ray Rentmeester who was the epitome of hustle all night.  

He made steals. He made saves, and he even made a steal which he had to save himself and then he turned it into an assist to Mason Wolfe on the break.

Wolfe was also phenomenal Saturday, going coast to coast multiple times for scores and assists and running the transition game efficiently with well-anticipated passing.

For Fortier, it was Rentmeester’s and Wolfe’s ability to grab key offensive rebounds that was most valuable to the T-Birds.

“Those two just kept getting us reloads off those free throws. I think we got four offensive boards with under four minutes,” Fortier said. “That was a big difference in the game, getting those second chance opportunities.”

Those opportunities led to more opportunities and then some. 

Lakeland attempted an astounding 41 free throws in the contest against Hayward and they made 23 of them.

“We purposely threw the ball inside to make the refs do their jobs and they did,” Fortier said.

His players also did their jobs and kept their cool as Hayward attempted its comeback.

With 29 seconds left, Lakeland led by only three, 61-58, but the T-Birds just kept getting to the line and hitting free throws when they had to seal a 67-62 victory.

“When you attempts 41 free throws you’re doing something right,” Fortier said. “You’re going to win a lot of games shooting 41.”

Lakeland next faces Rhinelander at home at 7:45 p.m. Friday night.

Jacob Friede may be reached at or