FORRESTON – Polo has been impressive in racking up an 8-0 record heading into the Forreston Holiday Tournament semifinals.
The Marcos, however, hadn't encountered a challenge like the one they faced on Thursday.
Polo had all kinds of difficulty dealing with a quick, physical group from Winnebago, and found itself on the losing end of a 78-61 decision.
"It's really hard to rep their intensity and athleticism in practice, even though I think we're a fairly athletic team," Polo coach Matt Messer said. "We weren't ready for it, and we got down a little bit on ourselves."
Polo (8-1) dug itself an early hole, falling behind 26-9 after the first quarter. The Marcos had 10 turnovers in the first 8 minutes, with seven of them via Winnebago steals.
They were competitive the rest of the way, however, and actually had a chance to make things interesting. A basket from Brian Cavanaugh brought the Marcos to within 12 points at 58-46 with 7:51 left in the fourth quarter, and had a chance to cut further into the deficit.
Zach Quaco was whistled for traveling, however, and Winnebago's Ryan Swigart hit a 3-pointer to up the margin back to 15 at 61-46. Polo didn't get closer than 13 points the rest of the way, but Messer took away something positive from the game against a traditional 2A powerhouse.
"The thing I was happiest to see is we picked ourselves back up and continued to fight," he said. "In Class 1A, you're going to be hard-pressed to see a team like Winnebago. If you can play with them, you can play with anybody."
"We had trouble with their press early on, but once we figured that out, we were down so much that we were playing for pride, pretty much," Cavanaugh added. "We were trying to show the other teams we'll play we could stick with Winnebago, even though we were down early."
Cavanaugh paced Polo with 18 points, Quaco had 14, and AJ Dollmeyer added 13 points and seven rebounds.
Swigart led Winnebago (9-0) with 26 points, DeLundre Dixon had 11, and Evan Mack added 10. The Indians were competing without a pair of key players – starter Isaiah Yanni and top reserve Dalton Langholf. Yanni has a groin injury, but could be back for tonight's title game, while Langholf suffered a separated shoulder in PE class on Thursday.
"I think we stretched some minutes, then we started getting tired, and then we started giving them layups," Winnebago coach Joe Murphy said. "That third quarter was tough to take, with all the free baskets we gave them. Credit to Polo. They did a great job getting to the basket."
Star of the game: Ryan Swigart, Winnebago 26 points
Key performer: Brian Cavanaugh, Polo, 18 points; Zach Quaco, Polo 14 points
Up next: Third-place game, Polo vs. Aquin, 6:30 p.m. today