‘An Interesting Ballclub’: Bobcats remember, celebrate 1989 state championship
They made comebacks in five straight tournament games.
They made clutch baskets in the final seconds to win tournaments games including the regional final in triple overtime.
They oozed confidence during an unbeaten season, with one player making a wager during the state title game and others promising a state tournament berth.
The 1989 Florence Bobcats, Class C boys basketball state champions, made themselves a team to remember.
“This is an interesting ballclub,” then-coach Bob Wolfe said during the tournament run.
Florence’s only state championship basketball team will be honored at 5 p.m. Friday with a viewing of the game in the high school lunchroom. Coaches, players and managers from that team will be recognized prior to the 7 p.m. varsity game against Three Lakes.
Florence reaching Madison for the 1989 state wasn’t all that unexpected. The 1987 Bobcats lost to Elk Mound in the state semifinals. The 1988 Bobcats fell to Gillett in overtime in the sectional semifinals.
The 1989 Bobcats carried an unbeaten record into the possible eight-game leg of the WIAA tournament, just as they had done in the past two regular seasons.
Incidentally, Florence’s 1989 girls also completed the regular season unbeaten, the only school in the state with two perfect programs. Head coach Dan Zoeller joined the boys coaching staff after the girls ended their season in the tournament.
The boys opened the sub-regionals with Elcho in a slowdown.
“It was about as boring a game as you’ll want to see,” Wolfe said after the 48-40 decision.
The Bobcats trailed 30-29 after three quarters. Steve Stamper’s 14 points led the way.
Florence dispatched Laona 64-30 in the next game, with six players scoring eight points or more. Stamper scored 15 points while Paul Kreski added 11 and 6-foot-5 Luke Seggelink had 10 with eight blocks.
The Bobcats shot 50 percent from the floor in drubbing Crandon 80-45. Kreski collected 24 points and 13 rebounds.
From there on, Florence played unforgettable basketball.
The Bobcats needed triple overtime and Joe Kriegl’s shot from the baseline with six seconds left to oust Wausaukee 75-73 for the regional title in Niagara.
“Nobody couldn’t say it wasn’t great,” said Wolfe, who regularly wore a towel draped over his shoulder during games.
The Bobcats had beaten the Rangers 56-54 in overtime during the regular season.
“It’s disappointing but that’s life,” said Wausaukee coach Gene Pieper. “I hope they win the state tournament. They look good enough to do it.”
Wolfe used just six players for all 41 minutes. Stamper fired in 35 points. Seggelink had 11 points, 18 rebounds, four blocks and five assists. Dane Setner made a defensive play to set up the game-winner.
The Bobcats, with a starting lineup of four seniors and a junior (Kriegl), advanced to Wausau West for the sectionals.
They recovered from a nine-point deficit in the first half to clip Crivitz 71-62. Kreski, part of a pressing defense, posted three steals in 90 seconds. The Bobcats also utilized a 1-3-1 zone during the season.
“We normally handle it better but they’ve got the guards,” said Crivitz coach Tony Fiore.
Stamper’s 29 points led the Bobcats.
In the sectional final, Florence outlasted Loyal and its deliberate style of play 42-33.
The Bobcats were going back to Madison.
“The big guy promised me, ‘We’re going to get you to Madison,'” Wolfe said of Seggelink.
Stamper’s 15, Kriegl’s 12 and Seggelink’s 11 paced the Bobcats to Madison.
“That’s the thing about this team, somebody always comes through,” said Wolfe, who also had assistant Bob Constantini, junior varsity coach Dave LaPoint and Zoeller helping out.
The Bobcats, armed with a 25-0 record, practiced at Northland Baptist Bible College’s larger court in preparation for the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse. However, 10 inches of snowfall made the trip from Niagara to Dunbar about 45 minutes.
“What an ordeal,” Wolfe said.
First up in Madison was Randolph.
“They’re supposed to be quick but it’s hard to believe anybody is quicker than Stamper or Kriegl,” Wolfe said.
Kriegl’s 17-footer with 13 seconds remaining lifted Florence past Randolph 56-55. The junior guard finished with 17 points, followed by Seggelink with 15 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks, and Kreski with 12.
Florence was down 50-41 with 6:29 showing in the fourth period.
“The first trip (in 1987) we were more in awe of the situation,” Wolfe said.
Stamper was held to nine in the state semis but he was heard from in the state championship game against Glenwood City on March 18.
With time running out and the Bobcats down by six, one of the Glenwood players told Stamper “it looks like it’s all over for you.”
“I’ll bet you $50 we win this thing,” Stamper said.
The Bobcats then reeled off the game’s final 12 points including a Stamper 3-pointer with 31 seconds remaining. That put Florence ahead 56-54.
“We never give up,” said Stamper, who once considered wrestling before basketball. “We could have been down 20 and not given up.”
Stamper scored 31 points in Florence’s 60-54 win over Glenwood City. Seggelink chipped in 17 points and 10 rebounds. Kreski converted big free throws down the stretch.
“Last year we promised Mr. Wolfe that we wouldn’t lose a game,” Kreski said.
On Sunday morning, Florence and the other state champions had breakfast with Governor Tommy Thompson in the governor’s mansion.
The 27-0 team arrived home to a celebration for the state champion.
Thirty years later, this Friday, the champions are back in town.