New Berlin West and Catholic Memorial haven't seen their seasons go as planned this year, with both playing in talent-rich conferences. So the opening round of the WIAA Division 2 tournament offered an opportunity for a fresh start.
The Vikings , out of the Woodland Conference, traveled to face Classic 8 entrant Catholic Memorial, and it was the Crusasders who earned advancement with a 62-48 victory.
A sluggish start for both teams saw the Vikings (2-21) ahead early, 6-1. That prompted Crusaders (7-16) head coach Dean Bellanti to call timeout after junior guard Mindika Wijenayake connected on two free throws at the 5:20 mark to give New Berlin West the brief 5-point lead.
New Berlin West assistant coach Brian Timmerman liked what he saw shortly after tip.
"Right away we got off to a little lead, playing good defense, and we were taking care of the basketball," said Timmerman, who was sitting in for veteran head coach Jeff Lewiston while Lewiston dealt with health issues. "After they called timeout, I think we had four straight turnovers. And then they really sped up the game. We had four turnovers in a row at that point."
The Crusaders led 12-11 after the first quarter. Thanks in part to field goals by senior Ayinde Starling, senior Tyler Larson and sophomore Alex Bray, the home team was ahead 34-28 at halftime.
Starting the second half, New Berlin West dug itself a deeper hole, with three turnovers and a long shot attempt that hit the cable above the goal on the first four possessions. By the end of the third quarter, Catholic Memorial was in front, 45-34.
"Sometimes I tell the kids we need to play within ourselves, and at that point I think that was the case," Timmerman said. "We had some turnovers where we passed the ball out of bounds or traveled. It was a case of trying to do a little too much."
Scott Reichel, a senior, left his prep career on a high note, taking game-high scoring honors for the Vikings with 20 points. Mindika Wijenayake had 10 points, and junior Brennan Grossman scored 7 points. Senior Chamika Wijenayake scored 6 points.
Seniors Jake Shomin and Chandler North both had 13 points for Catholic Memorial. Starling had 10 points, with Bray adding 7 points. Senior Bill Sheaffer finished the night with 6 points.
"I thought we started the game looking at each other, wondering who was going to do something, instead of execution," Bellanti said. "That's been part of our deal, our ups and downs throughout the season. Our system is based on trusting one another, finding the person that has the best opportunity to score each time down the floor. I thought we did a better job of that in the second half and found a way to win when facing elimination."
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