It took arguably the best shooting performance in WIAA tournament history on March 9 to put an end to the outstanding season of the Pewaukee boys basketball team.
From the start, it seemed like every shot No. 8-ranked New Berlin Eisenhower took fell through the basket. And that's not an exaggeration.
It was the first time longtime conference rivals New Berlin Eisenhower and No. 6-ranked Pewaukee met in the first round of the WIAA Division 2 sectional at West Allis Central on Thursday, and though the Pirates downed the Lions twice in the regular season, it was Ike surging to the sectional final, 75-61.
Eisenhower (20-5) grabbed its 13th straight victory by burning the nets with sizzling shooting. The Lions made their first seven 3-pointers of the game and converted 13 of 18 shots (72 percent) in the first half when they grabbed a shocking 37-20 lead.
Was it possible the Lions could improve on those brilliant numbers in the second half? Hardly. But that's exactly what they did.
In the second half, Eisenhower made 14 of 16 shots from the floor (87 percent), finishing the game at 27 of 34, good for 79 percent. From the 3-point arc, the Lions were sensational, making 9 of 12, good for 75 percent.
"I never remember any of my teams shooting like that or any team at all," said longtime Ike coach Dave Scheidegger. "We've been a good shooting team the second half of the season, but tonight was exceptional. We got good looks and were patient on offense. That was a big. The guys stuck to what we wanted to do, and of course, it never hurts to make a lot of shots."
Eisenhower advanced to the sectional title game against Milwaukee Washington (21-4) at Brown Deer on Saturday, March 11.
For Pewaukee, the loss was a difficult way for the season to end. The Pirates had an outstanding year, winning the Woodland Conference West Division title, capturing the regional and finishing the season with a 21-4 record, the second most wins in school history. It marked the fourth time in school history the Pirates won 20 or more games. The winningest season came in 2000-01 when they finished second at the state tournament with a 26-1 record.
"It's a tough way for the year to end," said Pewaukee coach Mike Basile, who led the Pirates to a 12th straight winning season. "They just never missed. I've never seen a team make their first seven 3-pointers of the game. We were playing good defense, too. It seemed like they made every shot they took."
While Eisenhower was smoking hot from the field, Pewaukee didn't find any kind of offensive momentum until late in the game. PHS finished the night shooting 32 percent, sinking 19 of 58 shots.
Pewaukee roars back
After falling behind by as many as 22 points (37-15) late in the first half, the determined Pirates battled back despite Eisenhower sinking just about every shot it took in the final 18 minutes.. Thanks to an aggressive trapping defense that forced the Lions into numerous second-half turnovers, Pewaukee slowly and methodically crawled back into serious title contention.
With Ike leading, 53-35, with 9:36 to play, the Pirates got rolling and turned that big deficit into a 5-point margin with 4:30 remaining, thanks to a 20-7 surge. That rally was led by junior Jack Gohlke, senior Wyatt Cook, senior Aidan Nordquist and junior Josh Swanson.
Two free throws by Nordquist and back-to-back triples from Cook and Gohlke made it a 60-55 score with 4:30 to play.
"I thought we had a big chance when we cut it to 5," Basile said. "Our defense got us some turnovers, and we made some big shots. But then they got on a roll at the end, and we couldn't get any closer. I'm really proud of all these guys the way they fought back. To be down as many points as were and then cut it to 5, that tells you how hard we were playing. I'm going to miss working with these guys. They had a great season."
Pewaukee made just 1 of its last 9 shots in the final 4:29.
Gohlke was brilliant in the second half. The sharp-shooting guard scored 20 of 26 points in the second half. Nordquist chipped in with 17 points.
Pewaukee played almost all of the second half without the services of first team all-conference center Grant Basile, who hurt his ankle early in the first half.
Eisenhower had excellent scoring balance. Junior guard Bryce Miller led the way with 24 points. He was followed by senior Sullivan Kulju with 18, senior Matthew Rolefson 12 and senior Sam Hluchnik 9.
"We work hard on our shooting every day in practice," Miller said. " Even though they beat us twice during the regular season, we stayed confident. Every time we play Pewaukee, it's a battle. Tonight, we made a lot of shots. That was the difference."
Scheidegger had plenty of praise for Pewaukee.
"Take nothing away from the great season they had," the New Berlin Eisenhower coach said. "That's a great team, and they're very well coached. It's never easy beating Pewaukee. It's a tough way for their season to end. We have a lot of respect for their coaches and players. Our guys were hot tonight."
Pewaukee had one stretch in the first half where it went 6:50 without scoring a basket.