With its season on the line, Muskego didn’t back down against a challenging Beloit Memorial squad. The Warriors led by as many as 13 points with 11:42 left, but the Purple Knights played aggressively and chipped away at Muskego’s lead, pulling within 2 points with 17.2 seconds remaining.
Despite Beloit Memorial’s determined effort, Muskego edged the Purple Knights, 64-60, in a WIAA Division 1 regional final game March 4.
“Really good win over a really, really good team,” Muskego coach Andy Capes said. “They beat some really tough squads. They have seniors that play really hard. Hats off to how hard they played. We knew it was going to be a really tough game. They made it really tough on us.”
Muskego sophomore A.J. Makinen was crucial down the stretch, hitting 4 of 4 free-throw attempts in the final 29.3 seconds of the game to extend the Warriors (20-4) winning streak to four games.
“I had complete confidence in myself,” said Makinen about his free-throw shooting. “My teammates had complete confidence in me, and so did my coach. He said I was one of the best in our conference. I knew I was knocking them down.”
Capes was pleased with the way his team responded against Beloit Memorial, after it took an overtime period for Muskego to beat No. 13-seeded Madison West, 79-65, one night earlier.
“We are young and are getting a lot of game experience on the fly,” Capes said. “Guys are learning. Madison West was a tough team, and they pushed us. We learned from it. The more experience we get, the better we’re going to be.”
This is the second straight season Muskego knocked Beloit Memorial (15-9) out of the playoffs. The Warriors beat the Purple Knights, 70-62, in the regional semifinal round last year.
With the win, No. 4-seeded Muskego will look to continue its momentum in the Division 1 sectional semifinal, when the Warriors face No. 8-seeded Madison East (14-10) at Janesville Craig High School March 9.
Madison East stunned No. 1-seeded Sun Prairie in the regional finals, winning 82-68 on March 4.
Last season, Muskego and Madison East met in the regional finals, with the Warriors claiming a 71-68 win.
“It’s the same thing as last year then,” Capes said. “It will be fun. They are good, athletic and big. Once you get this far and are in the sectionals, it’s not going to be easy.”
A crucial turning point in the first half occurred at the 14:09 mark, when Muskego went on a 5-minute, 8-0 run to grab at 16-8 lead. The Warriors never trailed in the game, jumping out to a 32-26 halftime lead over Beloit Memorial.
The second half started off as a back-and-forth contest with each team trading baskets. Up by 6 points with 15:20 remaining, the Warriors started to pull away after a 3-pointer by Ryan Wikel.
Muskego stretched its lead to 13 points on an uncontested layup by Ben Schaefer with 11:42 left. But down 49-36, the Purple Knights went on a 12-3 scoring run over a nearly 4-minute stretch to cut the Warriors’ lead to 4 points with 6:53 remaining.
With the energy in Beloit Memorial’s favor, Capes called a timeout to settle his team.
“Just keep our composure and handle runs,” said Capes about what he told his team in the huddle. “Understand the situation of the game and be able to handle it. Use the clock in our advantage.
“We were trying to make sure we took care of the ball and played hard defensively. (Beloit Memorial) made some tough shots.”
Even though the Warriors led by 8 points with 3 minutes left, the Purple Knights didn’t quit. Beloit Memorial cut Muskego’s lead to 58-53 with 1:43 before Makinen knocked down four crucial shots from the charity stripe in the last 29.3 seconds to seal the victory.
“We wanted one more game,” Makinen said. “We were just playing for our seniors. We wanted to move on to the next game and hopefully get to Madison.”
Only two Muskego players tallied double figures in scoring, with Makinen leading the way with 17 points. Stu Vent finished with 15 points for the Warriors.
“He’s one of the most talented guys I’ve coached and he’s only a sophomore,” said Capes about Makinen. “He’s very humble and heck of a leader. He’s a pleasure to coach. Good young man and good student. He does a lot of what we ask of him. I’m proud of him.”