Two unexpected teams met at Waukesha North on Saturday one night after both staged regional semifinal upsets, and it was the host school that repeated its regional championship from 2015 with a 67-53 win over Catholic Memorial on March 5.
Memorial shocked top-seeded New Berlin Eisenhower one night earlier. The fifth-seeded Northstars staged a more modest upset over fourth-seeded Greendale at the same time.
North 6-5 sophomore Will McDonald continued his impressive surge in the latter stages of the season, and North advanced to face another upset special, Whitnall, in Thursday's sectional semifinal.
The first half was a bit slow and defensive. Memorial opened the scoring with a layup from Ben Dragani, but North went on an 8-0 run to go up 8-2. An early timeout by Memorial got the Crusaders back on track, and Parker Carlsen scored two straight baskets before Alex Bray hit a three to bring the Crusaders back to 12-10 with North still leading. After making a free throw, Carlsen got a steal and an easy two a short time later to put his team on top, 13-12. The teams then traded threes with North's Adam Wieczorek and Kendall Gould and Memorial's Bray scoring one each. The game remained close through the end of the half and North ended up with the lead at halftime after two free throws from Marquis Carter.
'It was just a grind that first half,' Memorial coach Dean Bellanti said. 'I don't think either team really played well. We had a ton of turnovers, they had a ton of turnovers. We came into halftime, and we were down two, and it could be a totally different game coming out for the second half.'
And a totally different game it was. North came out with a full-court press that had the Crusaders reeling. McDonald extended the lead with an early basket. A short time later, he got a steal and another 2 points. A basket from Memorial 6-5 freshman Rich Byhre kept the Crusaders within three at 33-30, but then North went on a 13-2 run, and the Crusaders could never quite recover. Austin Young got a dunk for Memorial late in the game, but McDonald responded just before the final buzzer with a dunk to put the exclamation point on an emphatic win.
'I usually get dunks every game,' he said, 'so it's the same thing to me every time, but when (Young) went up there and got that dunk I was like, 'He's not going to come here to our house and dunk on our court and it's just going to be him.' I had to hurry up to help the crowd and get one for the team, so when he gave me the pass, I knew that was my chance to do it, and I hammered it out.'
'Our press really helped,' said Waukesha North coach Sam Katula. 'We started pressing early and often and we were able to force them to make some sloppy turnovers, and it allowed us to get some fast break layups. That's who we are, and that's what we do well. We started rebounding and we just did little things well. I'm going to let them enjoy this one. I want to get to Madison and (my team does), too.'
McDonald led the game with 24 points and fronted the rebound effort, as well.
'Well my coach, he told me to box out, but sometimes I don't listen because I know that I could probably outjump them and get the rebound, but most of the time the box-out does help and that makes me go and get the ball,' McDonald said. 'It's easy for me to do it because that's what they have me working on every practice, box out drills and going to get the ball.'
Katula said of McDonald, 'He came to us as a transfer from Milwaukee very raw, but he is so coachable, and he's listened to us and he has improved immensely. He just started playing when he was an eighth grader, he's a sophomore now. He's a double-double machine. He gets rebounds like nobody's business.'
The Crusaders will look forward to next season, as most of their team will be returning for 2016-2017.
'A lot of the young players return,' said Bellanti. 'We only graduate three kids off the team, so a lot of the young players got a lot of very good quality experience. I really like Waukesha North's basketball team. I think they've got a great opportunity here to move forward.'
Katula added, 'CMH is such a great coached team. I've known coach Bellanti for a while, he coached my brother. Those guys are one of the hardest working teams in the conference. I think they underachieved this year, and them beating Eisenhower proves that.'
Memorial wins a stunner
CMH finished the year 10-14 but gave itself a memorable finish.
Eisenhower had been ranked No. 1 in the state at points this season, but Memorial made sure the Lions never got a chance to work deep into the postseason with a 65-56 outcome Friday in New Berlin.
Parker Carlsen scored 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, Austin Young added 15 points and 12 boards and Alex Bray chipped in with 12 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Carlsen and Bray, unfortunately, are two of the team's three outgoing seniors.
Carlsen scored 21 points in a regional-opening win over South Milwaukee on March 1, 63-44. Bray added 12 points, and Max Cooper chipped in with 10.
It was reminiscent of last year, when Classic 8 Conference champ Muskego lost in an opening-round stunner, and North — despite finishing in last place in the league — was the only Classic 8 school to reach the sectional after upsets over New Berlin Eisenhower and Pewaukee. This year, Muskego joins North in the sectional.
North tops Greendale
North's run ended last year at the hands of Greendale in the sectional semifinal, and the Panthers went on to state. This year, however, fifth-seeded North had the upper hand on the fourth seed in a 66-58 win that slowed a team which had scored 121 points its last time out in a win over New Berlin West.
'(David) Pulizos and (Nate) Thomson are unreal players,' Katula said of a Greendale tandem that each cleared 40 points in that high-scoring affair. 'I was sweating all night, because they are a well-coached team, but I think our defense really stepped up to limit those guys to not that many points.'
Thomson finished with 18 points, including 12 in the second half, and Pulizos tallied 14 points, only 4 in the second half. Clay Kujawa, the only non-senior in that group, added 16 points.
Thomson opened the second half with a shot to put Greendale ahead, 33-32, but McDonald scored back-to-back baskets, giving his team the lead at 36-33.
North went up 46-41 on a shot by Chase Goodings before the Panthers came back. Thomson scored, then stole the ball, leading to a 3-pointer by Kujawa to tie the game at 46-46.
McDonald, who led all scorers with 19 points, cashed in a putback for a three-point play, then Adam Wieczorek netted a big 3-point shot from the right corner to make it 52-46 with five minutes left.
Thomson's 3-pointer cut the lead in half, but Wieczorek connected on two free throws and a baseline layup and Marquis Carter stole the ball at midcourt and converted a layup for a 58-49 advantage with 2 minutes, 20 seconds left.
Wieczorek scored 15 points, Carter 12 and Kendall Gould 11 points for the Northstars.
'In conference, we were projected to finish last, and we tied for third,' Katula said. 'We got a seed (fifth) that we thought could have been better, and that is a chip on our guys' shoulders. They want to come out and show, 'Hey, we're here to play.''