Even when things looked bleak early on, the New Berlin Eisenhower boys basketball team didn't give up hope. Against Milwaukee Washington in a WIAA Division 2 sectional final on March 11 at Brown Deer High School, Eisenhower put together just 10 points in the first half but pushed Washington in the second half before falling short, 52-43.
Washington opened up the second half with a 19-10 run before Ike kicked its offense into gear.
"They play excellent defense," Eisenhower coach David Scheidegger said of Washington. "They're a big, strong team. ... Maybe we were a little too excited at the start but we got it going and got warmed up in the second half. It was just a little bit too late. We had a chance there at the end but the hole was a little too big to overcome."
Eisenhower trailed by 16 with 9 minutes, 38 seconds left in regulation but cut it to 39-32 just 2 minutes later.
"We knew that wasn't going to happen again," Eisenhower senior Sullivan Kulju said of the team's slow first half. "That was probably our worst half of the year. But you have to look that they only had 17. ... We knew we were doing well defensively. We had a good attitude in the locker room. We realized we had to try and get it done."
Kulju hit both of his free throw attempts at the 1:58 mark to pull Eisenhower within 44-40.
"We were really just trying to bring as much energy as we could," Ike junior Bryce Miller said. "We dug ourselves a pretty big hole in the first half. We weren't hitting our shots. We just had to stay with it, keep our confidence up."
Miller led Eisenhower with 22 points and made all 5 of his free throw attempts.
"We had to stick with what we were doing," Miller said. "We knew it would work eventually. We just had to go through what we do every day in practice and keep working hard and the shots would eventually fall."
Eisenhower finished the season with a 20-6 overall record and lost just two games since Jan. 20.
"At the start of the second half, we kind of needed to probably score first a little more often there," Scheidegger said. "The kids kept fighting. We're proud of the kids. These kids never give up. The senior class is very competitive, great kids and student athletes. They support each other. It's just a pleasure to coach them. That rubs off on the whole team. This group never says die. They just kept building. Since Christmas, these kids have kept improving and getting better. We've been on a roll and the game catches up to you once in a while. These kids have played a lot of good basketball. I'm very proud of them."
Once Eisenhower made it a 4-point game, Washington went on a 9-3 run to close the contest.
"We just really finally started playing the way we play basketball," Kulju said. "Anyone who watches this game sees that stretch, it just shows what we've done all year. We've never quit and never gave up on each other. We just rallied back, cut it to 4 and all of a sudden shots don't fall anymore. That's just how it goes sometimes."
Kulju added 12 points and cleared 1,000 career points in the process.
"It's been amazing," Kulju said. "It started off rough. We never gave up and there were no attitudes. People came to work every day and we made an incredible run. We only lost two games since Christmas. You can't ask for much better than that. The two games we lost were close and I thought we played really well this year. I love these guys, I love coach Scheidegger and all our coaches. I had a great experience here."
Senior Mattew Rolefson scored 7 points and junior Joe Lang contributed 2 points.
"We had a very heavy, senior-loaded group this year," Miller said. "It's going to be tough to lose all those guys. I love them with all my heart. I'd say we really matured as a group this year. Before Christmas, we might not have been altogether as one group, but you could really see our growth after Christmas. ... We were really playing really good basketball."