KAUKAUNA - Kaukauna finished last season atop the Fox Valley Association boys basketball standings and that's exactly where Neenah is looking to finish this season.
Tuesday, the teams met in a battle of FVA co-leaders with early-season bragging rights on the line and as expected this one came down to the final minute.
Neenah, with the help of 6-foot-10 Matt Heldt and sharpshooter Nathan Pronschinske, outlasted the Ghosts, 63-60, and now occupies the FVA penthouse alone.
"It was huge," Pronschinske said of the win. "We knew they would come out and run. We hit shots, they hit shots. We played great defense."
"It's huge," Neenah coach Scott Bork said. "This is a tough place to play. To come in here and get a win is a great win."
Why Neenah was able to beat Kaukauna is the 1-2 punch it exhibited Tuesday. Early on, Heldt scored 9 of his 15 points in front of University of Wisconsin assistant coach who attended the game to watch the sophomore.
Then on the outside Pronschinske showed his marksmanship. The 6-4 guard drilled six 3-pointers, four in the first half, as the Rockets opened a 37-29 halftime lead.
"My teammates found me and they set great screens," said Pronschinske, who totaled 18 points. "I just knocked shots down. I took advantage of the opportunities they gave me."
Bork said his team has to work a certain way on offense and it starts with his big man.
"We have to go inside and then outside; that's a better look for us," Bork said. "Nathan got on a roll because he took good shots."
In the second half, Heldt and Pronschinske combined for 10 points as Kaukauna coach Michael Schalow played a triangle-and-two defense with the three players playing zone, surrounding Heldt.
That allowed Kaukauna to rally and grab a 47-46 lead on a Kyle Schalow 3-pointer, but the Rockets then outscored the Ghosts, 11-3, to open a 57-50 lead and hung on from there.
"When they fought back, we fought back harder," Pronschinske said. "We just got done what we needed to get done."
Bork knew his team wouldn't run away and hide from Kaukauna.
"In this conference, it's very rare if you knock anybody out," Bork said. "They had their kids prepared. When you get a lead you have to know they're going to come back and make a run.
"We were happy to cut their run off and answer it to be able to hold on down the stretch."
The win ended a 3-game stretch in which Neenah faced FVA contenders Oshkosh North, Appleton West and Kaukauna (5-2, 5-2). The Rockets ended 2-1 in the stretch.
"That's as tough as it gets in this conference," Bork said. "Our next one won't be any easier, Appleton East. Our kids, they understand they have to bounce back. We lost a tough one at Oshkosh North. We came back with great practices and played really well at Appleton West."
Pronschinske said the stretch offered the team to learn about itself.
"We've learned how to come together," Pronschinske said. "Nine of our first 12 games are on the road, so we knew the first half of the season would be a test."
At 7-1 overall, you can say Neenah (6-1 FVA) is passing the test.
- 3-pointers: Riley Vander Wyst led Kaukauna with 16 points, scoring 12 in the second half. … Carter Belling scored 11 points off the bench for Kaukauna. … Six of the 10 teams in the FVA are above .500 in conference play.
- Game ball: Pronchinske, whose perimeter shooting keyed the Rockets.
- Numbers game: 2 FVA losses for Kaukauna, one more than it had last season when it went 17-1.
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
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