Westosha Central sophomore Jaeden Zackery (left) and senior Bailey Menarek (right) swarm Panthers’ senior Darren Rita in Thursday’s WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal contest (Rick Benavides/The Report).

Westosha Central plays Waunakee 1 p.m. Saturday

By Jason Arndt
Staff Writer

For the first time in its history, the Westosha Central High School boys basketball team is moving on to a WIAA Division 2 sectional title contest after winning 74-43 Thursday in the sectional semifinal held at Burlington High School.

The Falcons’ 31-point victory came at the expense of county rival Wilmot Union High School, which produced an improbable run of three consecutive road upsets as a No. 10 seed.

Before a raucous crowd of students dressed in Falcon maroon and Panther red, Westosha Central immediately drowned out the sea of red in the first four minutes, courtesy of a 14-0 run.

“This is the loudest I have ever heard in a gym, ever,” said Falcons’ senior Tre Williams. “It felt like a college game. That atmosphere is great.”

According to Williams, who knocked in eight of his game-high 22 points in the 14-0 run, the four-minute Westosha Central outburst was indicative of how the rest of the contest would go.

“We did everything right tonight, and that 14-0 run really helped us,” said Williams, a 5-foot-11 guard, noting the Falcons came out with intensity to start the contest.

That intensity, according to Panthers’ coach Jake Erbentraut, kept his team’s leading shooters, juniors Latrell Glass and Jeremy Bruton, from swaying the game in their direction.

Bruton, who scored a team-leading 12 points, was the Panthers’ sole double-digit scorer while Glass could only muster eight.

“We go where they go,” Erbentraut said. “It was difficult for them, we were down in the hole, and we were trying to get out of a tough spot.”

Bruton added the Westosha Central defense took away his team’s perimeter threat.

“Their defense really did a good job taking the perimeter away and we just didn’t play our best,” said Bruton, who scored nine of 12 points in the second half.

Falcons’ coach James Hyllberg, whose team plays Waunakee 1 p.m. Saturday at Middleton High School, said the early defensive pressure was part of Thursday’s game plan.

“We just wanted to put pressure on their guards, the same thing we have been doing the last 10 games,” Hyllberg said. “We put our hands high and wide to try to make them force hard passes to the corner.”

Westosha Central students shout in support of the Falcons during Thursday’s WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal contest against Wilmot (Rick Benavides/The Report).

Falcons face Waunakee

Next for the Falcons, who jumped to 20-5 following Thursday’s win, is a WIAA Division 2 sectional title against Waunakee 1 p.m. Saturday at Middleton.

Waunakee, a fellow top seed in its regional, defeated No. 3 Monona Grove Thursday and enters the title game with a 23-2 overall record.

The Warriors, who captured the Badger Conference North Division at 12-0, features leading scorers Mitch Listau at 22.5 points per game and Mason Steffen, who averages 13.9.

Hyllberg believes the Falcons can succeed, if all the ingredients come together on Saturday.

“We got one day to prepare,” said Hyllberg said. “If we come out, have confidence, make some shots and play defense, our chances are as good as anyone.”

Falcons’ junior Cooper Brinkman agreed, adding the Falcons have to come out determined.

“We just got to play better than them, hustle, I feel confident no matter who we play,” said Brinkman.

Falcons flourish in first half
Sparked by Brinkman’s layup to start the contest, Williams added a bucket followed by back-to-back shots from the arc to power the Falcons to an 8-0 edge that resulted in a Panther timeout.

The bleeding continued, however, with Brinkman adding a layup followed by a Nic Frederick fast break bucket to put the Panthers in a 14-0 deficit.

Brinkman, a 6-4 forward, said Westosha Central’s pressure defense, in addition to a rapid transition offense, were instrumental in the opening outburst.

“We just forced turnovers,” said Brinkman, who knocked in 19 points for the Falcons. “They threw the ball out of bounds and they really didn’t know what to do.”

With 14:05 left in the first half, the Panthers posted their first points, courtesy of a Bruton 3-pointer to cut the Falcons’ lead to 14-3.

After both teams traded buckets, including five of Glass’ eight points, the Falcons scored another 7-0 run, with Brinkman contributing four and Williams adding three to give Westosha Central a 26-8 lead.

Then, Panthers’ senior Darren Rita and Glass drew fouls, which sent them to the free throw line, where they each went 1-for-2 to trim the Panthers’ deficit to 26-10.

Following both free throws, the Falcons went on another run, sparked by back-to-back Jaeden Zackery baskets on the fast break.

Zackery, a 6-0 sophomore guard, finished with eight points.

From there, 6-3 junior Joey Gilliland drew a foul to bring him to the charity stripe, where he converted both attempts, and then added a jumper to build Westosha Central’s lead to 34-10.

Zackery followed up, adding a bucket before the Panthers’ attempted to ignite a rally, courtesy of senior Troy Hickey, who scored four of Wilmot’s points in a 6-0 run.

But, Westosha Central sophomore Adam Simmons, a 6-0 guard, responded with six points in the Falcons’ 8-0 run to give them a 44-16 lead entering halftime.

Panthers push in second half
Entering the second half, Wilmot produced rallies of 8-0 and 9-0, but the efforts were not enough as the Falcons answered each time.

During the Panthers’ 8-0 run, Bruton knocked in two 3-pointers with sophomore Kevin Brenner chipping in two
free throws.

Later, with the Falcons ahead 61-29, Wilmot junior Kyle Gendron started the 9-0 rally, courtesy of a bucket and 3-pointer, capped by a Josh Schattner free throw and Bruton 3-point play.

Gendron, a 6-2 guard, scored all nine of his points in the second half.

Erbentraut, whose team ends the season 8-17, acknowledged the Panthers had difficulty containing Westosha Central’s balanced attack.

“Central is a really good team and they are talented, they are athletic, they play with composure, so it is some combination,” said Erbentraut.

Wilmot awakens in playoffs
Meanwhile, as the Falcons look to Saturday, No. 10 Wilmot capped off an improbable run, consisting of victories at No. 7 Fort Atkinson and No. 2 McFarland before the Panthers captured the regional title with a one-point decision against No. 3 Burlington.

“The last three games we had, I thought we played our best basketball all year, where we came from and how we were playing was really impressive,” said Bruton.

Erbentraut concurred, stating he is proud of how his team forged ahead in the playoffs.

“It hurts right now, but we are going to look back from this and be amazed at what we accomplished in such a short time,” Erbentraut said.

“So many people discounted us, and I am really proud.”

 
 

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