By Jason Arndt
The Falcons not only captured a WIAA Division 2 sectional championship and clinched a spot at the State Tournament for the second time in program history.
They did it convincingly on March 12, when the Westosha Central boys basketball team routed Oregon at Watertown High School, courtesy of an offensive outburst at the end of the first half.
Westosha Central, ahead by one point at 21-20, produced a 16-0 run capped off by a senior Jack Rose buzzer beating three-pointer and the student section erupted in celebration as the Falcons carried a 37-20 halftime advantage.
The Falcons then opened the second half with seven consecutive points to widen their advantage to 44-20 en route to a 79-48 drubbing of the Panthers.
The rapidly escalating run, meanwhile, happened so quickly that even Westosha Central coach James Hyllberg didn’t know until after the game.
“We had a 16-0 run? I didn’t know that. That is huge,” Hyllberg said.
Westosha Central, which carries a 25-2 overall record into the State Tournament, won its 16th consecutive contest with the March 12 victory.
According to Hyllberg, his squad came prepared and had one objective in mind entering the sectional final.
“We don’t take this for granted,” he said. “These guys get all of the credit and have worked hard. The players are a mature group and it is a goal they set from Day One.”
The State Tournament appearance will be the Falcons first since 2018 when they fell to Kaukauna in the state semifinals.
However, since then, the Falcons have experienced heartbreaking losses in regional and sectional play in the previous three years.
“We definitely haven’t forgotten about any of those,” Rose said. “We were working for this for the last three years.”
Rose, meanwhile, will conclude his illustrious Westosha Central career, which includes becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer, at the State Tournament with senior teammates Kenny Garth and Devin Griffin.
“We have been playing together since we were little kids, we are boys on and off the court, our chemistry is great,” Rose said. “We know each other’s games really well.”
Switching defensive schemes
Second-seeded Oregon, coming off an upset win of top-seeded DeForest in the upper half of the bracket, offered an initial challenge to Westosha Central.
In the first half, the contest underwent several lead changes up until 5 minutes, 34 seconds left in the opening frame, when Oregon’s Evan Miles buried a 3-pointer and put the game into a 17-17 deadlock.
Oregon, which made six 3-pointers in the first half, received three from senior Ryne Panzer.
“He was getting open looks,” said Rose. “They were kicking it out to him. Once we switched to man, we were guarding him pretty tight.”
The Falcons opened with a mix of 1-3-1 and 2-3 defensive schemes before moving to man-to-man.
From there, Westosha Central capitalized and forced 11 Oregon turnovers, which led to several transition points in the final minute of the first half.
“Our zone got a few turnovers in a row and we got out on the fast break,” Griffin said. “It just carried on for the rest of the game.”
The flurry began with a Garth bucket followed by a Griffin shot from beyond the arc before converting two free throws and basket to bring the Falcons’ advantage from 21-20 to 30-20.
Westosha Central, meanwhile, continued to widen its advantage with back-to-back buckets from Griffin followed by Rose’s 3-pointer at the buzzer and sent the Falcons into halftime carrying a 37-20 lead.
Rose finished with a game-high 19 points, including 12 in the first half, and made two 3-pointers.
Griffin, like Rose, scored 12 points in the first half and recorded 18 points for the Falcons.
“I have been feeling more confident, getting more open looks,” Griffin said.
Meanwhile, in the second half, Westosha Central maintained its intensity and outscored the Panthers 42-28.
The Falcons, according to Hyllberg, played better defense in the second half.
The defense, he said, includes limiting Panzer to two points.
“They shot a lot of 3’s in there first half, but we rebounded well,” Hyllberg said.
“We did a much better job in the second half and we played a lot more man-to-man,” he added.
In addition to Rose and Griffin, the Falcons had three other players scoring in double figures, including juniors Wyatt Anderson and Alex Sippy.
Anderson, limited to two first-half points, added nine in the second half to finish with 11.
Sippy, meanwhile, also contributed nine of his 11 points in the final frame.
As for Garth, who scored the Falcons’ first five points, he contributed 10.
“We did everything right, we took care of the ball, we made free throws and we rebounded well and got in transition,” Hyllberg said.
Junior Casey Schoenecker scored a team-leading 12 points for Oregon (23-5).