New Berlin West's boys basketball team continues to check off accomplishments as the program continues to build toward becoming a consistent contender.
With a 73-65 over Milwaukee Pulaski in a WIAA Division 2 regional opener, the sixth-seeded Vikings won their first home playoff game since 2010 and reached the 10-win mark for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
But it didn't come easy, as the 11th-seeded Rams (4-17) jumped out to a 21-10 lead and had an answer each time New Berlin West attempted to pull away in the second half.
"One of our goals this year was to get a home playoff game," New Berlin West coach Brandon Mattox said. "We fought, we clawed and we scratched. This is big for us. It was big for our program."
Senior guard Zach White scored a career-high 31 points to lead the Vikings, which saw their season come to an end at 10-14 with a 77-51 loss to third-seeded Whitnall in a regional semifinal March 3.
Pulaski had its way with New Berlin West's defense early. Rams senior guard Raquentez Woodley got into the paint at will, scoring 8 points to help Pulaski go up, 21-10, with 10:32 left in the first half.
Turnovers plagued the Vikings during their slow start. Once New Berlin West took better care of the basketball, it was able to get going offensively, rattling off a 16-4 run to take a 32-28 lead before Pulaski hit a pair of free throws to make it 32-30 at halftime.
"Guys were maybe looking ahead too much," White said. "We got caught up. We had to play a game first and had to get them first."
Woodley hit a triple to put the Rams in front, 33-32, early in the second half, but Joe Robey answered with a 3-point play to give the Vikings a 35-33 advantage. New Berlin West wouldn't trail the rest of the way, but it also would lead by no more than 7 points until the final seconds.
A pair of free throws by White and a layup by Hunter Pipik gave the Vikings a 64-57 lead with 5:00 remaining, but Pulaski quickly pulled back to within 64-62 on a 3-pointer by Arenze Jones and a jumper by Tyron Gray. Woodley hit the first of two free throws to make it 66-63 but missed the second attempt.
Desmond Polk was then fouled and hit two free throws to put New Berlin West up 68-63 with 1:06 remaining, beginning a stretch in which the Vikings hit 7 of 8 free-throw attempts.
After scoring 25 points against Wauwatosa West on Jan. 6, White went through a nine-game stretch in which he averaged just 6.6 points per game and shot 7-for-34 (20.6 percent) from beyond the arc.
White broke out of his slump in back-to-back games against Wauwatosa West and Lake Country Lutheran on Feb. 10 and 15, scoring 39 points and hitting 9 of 20 3-point attempts over the two games. He's averaged 18.7 points over New Berlin West's last six games, shooting 23-of-53 (43.4 percent) from distance.
"I've been really working on my shot recently at practice," White said. "Coach has been trying to get me to put up more during games. They started falling tonight, so I just kept shooting. Midseason my shot wasn't falling at all. Now I definitely feel like it is back, and I am in a groove."
Robey finished with 16 points and Pipik recorded a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds as the Vikings shot 51.0 (25-for-49) from the field.
New Berlin West was unable to spring the upset over Whitnall, which was playing without star junior Tyler Herro due to injury. The Falcons took a 33-24 halftime lead and pulled away in the second half by outscoring the Vikings, 44-27.
Fred Cottrell led New Berlin West with 17 points. Pipik added 11 points and 8 rebounds, Polk scored 10 points and White had 9 points.