With the Classic 8 Conference title already decided, the regular-season finale between Muskego and Arrowhead didn't have quite the luster it had when the two teams were neck-and-neck atop the standings.
But while the Warriors couldn't grab a share of what would have been their third straight league championship, collecting an 85-73 win over the state-ranked Warhawks on Feb. 23 served as a shot in the arm heading into the playoffs.
"It was a good win," Muskego coach Andy Capes said. "We're pretty good rivals, having gone back and forth the last couple of years. The last two years, we've won the conference title over them, and this year, they got it over us. They are a very good team. To beat them was certainly a nice win."
Muskego trailed 42-38 at halftime but outscored Arrowhead, 47-31, after the break to prevent the Warhawks from finishing undefeated in the Classic 8. The Warriors closed the regular season at 18-4 overall and in second place in the Classic 8 at 11-3, while Arrowhead fell to 17-5 and 13-1.
The Warriors went 25-for-31 from the free-throw line, while Arrowhead was 13-for-23.
"We didn't do a lot at halftime changing things up," Capes said. "They just made every shot (in the first half). They are good shooters, and knew that, but we wanted to stop them from penetrating and make them shoot. Then they hit their shots. The odds evened out in the second half, and they didn't hit quite as many. I thought we did a good job defensively in the first half, and they made a lot of tough shots.
"When they are shooting that well, it is tough to keep up with them. I was actually surprised we were able to keep it that close in the first half to give ourselves a chance to win."
After sitting out five games due to injury, senior guard Ryan Wikel returned to score a career-high 25 points. Muskego also got back sophomore forward Stu Vent, who missed the Warriors win over Waukesha North on Feb. 16.
Sophomore guard A.J. Makinen scored 16 points, senior forward Luke Horozewski had 14 points, senior center Will Herald finished with 12 points and Vent added 10 points.
"We finally had everyone back," Capes said. "It was a huge boost to have Ryan. It was Senior Night too, so you always think your seniors are going to have an extra step. Ryan certainly stepped up and did a great job. We've been missing him. He's a consistent double-digit scorer off the bench. We started him, and he just played really well. We don't win without him. He was fantastic."
Muskego is the No. 4 seed in the WIAA Division 1 Sun Prairie sectional and will open the playoffs at home against 13th-seeded Madison West (7-15, 6-12 Big Eight) at 7 p.m. Friday, March 3. The Regents are led by the high-scoring backcourt of seniors Terrell Carey (20.5 points per game) and Simeon Parker (14.8 ppg).
With a win, the Warriors would host the winner of fifth-seeded Beloit Memorial (14-8, 11-7 Big Eight) and 12th-seeded Verona (8-14, 5-13 Big Eight) in a regional final Saturday, March 4.
"Madison West is very good," Capes said. "Their record doesn't indicate how good they are. They play in a very good conference. They have some very, very good athletes. They have two kids that I don't know how we are going to guard. Their backcourt is talented and athletic. We are going to have our hands full. We have them at home, so hopefully, we come out and play well after that Arrowhead game.
"We're hoping to keep the momentum going now that we have everybody back. We'll see if we can take care of Madison West on Friday and then you never know."