Jake Fieiras celebrated his 18th birthday with an offensive breakthrough.
The 6-foot-4 forward bullied the Verona Wildcats in the paint, leading the charging Janesville Craig High boys basketball team back from an early deficit.
But he was far from a one-dimensional threat.
Fieiras, left alone on the left wing, sank a towering 3-pointer with about 13 minutes left to give the Cougars their first lead in a Big Eight Conference game they eventually won 63-53 on Tuesday at Bob Suter Court.
“When I’m open, I can hit them,” said Fieiras, who led Craig with 17 points and made a pair of key 3s in the second half as the Cougars improved to 4-0.
Fieiras’ breakout performance helped the Cougars offset the loss of senior Jack Huml, who left with an injury in the first half. Fieiras scored 14 total points as a junior and had scored 12 points in his first three games this season.
“We weren’t sure if we could play without him,” Fieiras said of Huml, who made one 3-pointer before exiting. “But it definitely shows tonight we can do (that), and now when we get him back it’s going to be even better.”
Craig (3-0 Big Eight) outscored Verona (1-3, 1-2 Big Eight) 12-2 over the final 2:30 to pull away.
Sophomore Angelo Rizzo opened the decisive run by leaping in front of a Verona pass from the baseline and taking it the other way for a layup. Senior Jacob Lynch connected for a 3-pointer from the left corner, and senior Aaron Leverson scored six straight points to put the game out of reach.
“In that kind of game, it really worked to our advantage to have a lead at the end,” Craig coach Ben McCormick said. “They had to foul and put us on the line.”
Rizzo contributed 12 points in expanded playing time following Huml’s departure.
“The last two games, he’s responded unbelievably well,” McCormick said of Rizzo. “He’s long, he’s smart and he plays really hard.”
The severity of Huml’s injury was unknown, McCormick said. Huml was Craig’s second-leading scorer, averaging 16.7 points per game entering Tuesday.
Tyler Slawek led Verona with 21 points and hit a game-tying 3 with about three minutes to play. The Wildcats missed their final seven field goal attempts and Craig took advantage.
“They do a lot of ball screens, and I thought we communicated well and switched out of those,” McCormick said.
Verona worked the ball around for over a minute on its opening possession before Ryan Van Handel got inside for a short two.
Van Handel hit 3s on back-to-back possessions to give Verona a quick 8-0 lead.
Led by Rizzo and Fieiras, the Cougars rallied back. Fieiras backed down a defender and spun to his right for a layup to tie the game, 26-26, with 26 seconds left in the first half.
The Wildcats made their first four attempts from 3-point range but cooled off, finishing 9 of 24 from outside.
Craig shot 53.7 percent from the field, including 17 of 29 inside the arc. Lynch finished with 12 points, while Leverson added 10.
The Cougars close a three-game homestand Friday against conference foe Sun Prairie.
CRAIG 63, VERONA 53
Verona (53)—Anderson 3-2-8, Klawitter 3-0-9, Bekx 2-0-4, Sutter 1-0-3, Slawek 8-2-21, Smith 3-0-8. Totals: 20-4-53.
Craig (63)—Huml 1-0-3, Scoville 1-2-4, Bertagnoli 2-0-5, Rizzo 5-2-12, Fieiras 7-1-17, Leverson 3-4-10, Lynch 5-1-12. Totals: 24-10-63.
Verona 26 27—53
Janesville Craig 26 37—63
3-point goals—Verona 9 (Bekx 3, Slawek 3, Van Handel 2, Sutter 1), Craig 5 (Fieiras 2, Huml 1, Bertagnoli 1, Lynch 1). Free throws missed—Verona 2, Craig 4. Total fouls—Verona 15, Craig 13.