Westosha Central coach James Hyllberg gets fired up as his team takes a late lead during its sectional semifinal contest against Elkhorn held at Burlington High School (Earlene Frederick/The Report).

Westosha Central (21-4) to play Monona Grove (24-1) Saturday

By Jason Arndt

Since the first day of practice, the Falcons had last season’s WIAA Division 2 sectional final loss in their mind, and wanted to finish what they couldn’t a year ago.

The second-seeded Westosha Central High School basketball team, however, had No. 4 Elkhorn standing in its way during Thursday’s WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal in Burlington.

At the start of Thursday’s contest, the Elks looked to play spoilers, leading the first 34 minutes until Falcons senior Cooper Brinkman made a mid-range jumper at the top of the paint to pull Westosha Central ahead 40-39.

From there, the Falcons forged ahead to come away with a 46-41 sectional semifinal victory, which moves them to Saturday’s sectional final against top-seeded Monona Grove (24-1) held at Oregon High School.

The semifinal victory came in spite of a challenging first half, where the Falcons fell behind by 14 points, and trailed 25-14 entering halftime.

The matchup, meanwhile, is unlike last season when the Falcons (21-4) dropped the sectional final to Waunakee.

But, regardless of opponent, Falcons coach James Hyllberg said the team met their goal.

“Last year, we took that loss, our goal was to get back here,” said Hyllberg, who still made it a point to take it one game at a time. “That was our goal from day one.”

Meanwhile, for the Elkhorn (18-7), Thursday’s defeat marks the end of its improbable run, including the defeat of top-seeded Union Grove to claim the regional title last week.

Elkhorn coach Josh Skatrud believes his team showed resilience, but the loss came down to making shots when it mattered.

”I thought our kids battled, but ultimately, playoff basketball is about being to score tough baskets,” Skatrud said. “We just had a tough time getting on our offense, they put up a lot of pressure on us and we just had a rough time getting into anything and ultimately, credit to them, their defense really got to us,”

“You got give Elkhorn credit, they are very scrappy,” Hyllberg said. “I think early on, they were an aggressive team in the first half, and we were kind of sitting back a little too relaxed.”

Falcons start cold
By junior Jaeden Zackery’s admission, the Falcons did not have a favorable first half, where the Elks defense held him without a field goal.

Zackery, who scored both of his first half points on free throws, finished with a game-high 15 points.

“They played a hell of a game, they are a hell of a team, their defense was real strong and they were pressuring me the whole time on all of my shots,” he said. “They were all contested, so it was rough in the first half, but we just came together as a team and pushed off of each other.”

While the Elks contested Zackery’s shots, they jumped to an 18-7 lead, courtesy of a 7-0 run sparked by sophomore Devon Davey.

After Davey extended the Elks lead to 21-7, both teams traded buckets, which maintained their edge at 23-9.

The Falcons, who received a 3-point play from Brinkman and two free throws by Zackery, carried a 25-14 deficit into the second half.

Offensive switch
After a discussion at halftime, Hyllberg made a switch on offense, switching Zackery to point guard.

The switch paid off 18 seconds into the second half when Zackery made his first field goal to start a 9-2 run, which he capped off with a 3-pointer, and cut the Elks lead to 27-23 with 14:40 left of regulation.

About eight minutes later, with the Elks ahead 38-28, Falcons senior Joey Gilliland shifted the momentum in the Falcons favor when he drained back-to-back 3-pointers and started a 10-0 run to tie the contest at 38-38.

Skatrud said both 3-pointers shifted momentum in the Falcons favor.

“Gilliland had two really big 3’s, and credit to him, he is a guy that kind of flies under the radar for them, but I think that is what it came down to, is he had two big 3s,” he said.

“(Joey) is one of the best shooters on our team. That really picked us and helped the momentum,” Zackery said.

Meanwhile, according to Gilliland, his two 3-pointers showed it was a matter of time before his squad found its rhythm.

“We just had to shoot our shots, sometimes we get cold, and sometimes we get hot,” he said. “In the second half, we were getting hot and we just had to play hard.”

After Umnus made one of two free throws to give the Elks their last lead of the contest, Brinkman stepped in, and made a shot from the top of the paint with 2 minutes left of regulation.

Brinkman, who battled the fever earlier this week, said the location of his jumper was key.

“That is my favorite shot and I knew it was going in,” Brinkman said.

“He has been big, he was actually out the other day, he was sick with the fever, body aches, so he missed a day of school yesterday and came back today and I thought he played very well,” Hyllberg said.

After Brinkman’s bucket, Zackery took control, adding a bucket and two free throws to give the Falcons a 44-39 edge with 27.1 seconds left.

After Elkhorn’s Quin McDonald made a basket, Zackery responded by drawing a personal foul, which sent him to the charity stripe where he converted both of his shots.

Vince Umnus led the Elks with 11 points.


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