Last year, it was Sussex Hamilton that stunned Arrowhead in the regional final. This year, the tables turned.
Arrowhead took five charges in the second half, digging in defensively, and turned the tide in a performance that earned them a trip to the WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal Thursday against No. 1 ranked Germantown. With the 49-36 loss Feb. 23, Hamilton's landmark season came to an end at 21-3.
Arrowhead led 20-14 at the half in a grind-it-out defensive struggle in front of a packed house.
With 7:11 to play in the third quarter, Chargers enforcer Tony Gumina connected on a 3-point play to make the count 22-17. Brady Ellingson canned a 3-point field goal then scored on one of the game's only breakaway layups, cutting Arrowhead's lead to 24-22 with 4:20 to play in the third quarter.
But Arrowhead's Jackson Abresch sank two free throws with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter, and D.J. Escamilla found shooting room from the corner, drilling a 3-pointer to give Arrowhead a three-possession lead 29-22 with 3:30 showing on the third quarter clock.
Thereafter, the Chargers were whistled for five offensive fouls in attempts to attack the basket, as Arrowhead stood its ground inside.
Kyle Keranen knocked down a 3-point field goal with 5:07 to play in the fourth quarter, giving Arrowhead a double-digit lead at 37-26.
Dominic Todarello guarded Ellingson and compelled the junior marksman to take his looks farther and farther from the basket.
"Obviously Brady is a great shooter," Todarello said. "I just tried to force him left and to dribble more than just spot up and shoot the three. I have to thank my teammates for helping me out on him. He's a great player."
Ellingson finished with 15 points for game-high honors on 6 for 19 shooting. He was 3 for 10 from long range.
Hamilton was also stingy, allowing Arrowhead to go 16 for 35 (35.6 percent) from the field. The Chargers ended up 14 for 43 (32.6 percent) for the night.
Todarello led Arrowhead with 13 points. Keranen and Finco each achieved double figures with 10 points and Billy Hirschfeld, exchanging body blows with Gumina most of the night, had 4 points, but more importantly 11 rebounds.
Gumina had 7 points and nine rebounds for the Chargers.
"We needed to make some shots, some plays, but to their credit, they got after us tonight defensively," Hamilton head coach Andy Cerroni said. "We battled and tried to get to the rim but they were there to take charges."
For Hamilton, it was a tough night, but no one in the Charger Nation will ever forget the Greater Metro Conference co-championship season.
"These kids are going to always remember this game. They earned the right to be here," Cerroni said. "I'm not disappointed. These guys have accomplished a lot this season."
All eight boys basketball teams in the GMC were eliminated in the WIAA regional level.
Girls fall in OT to DSHA
It was a lofty goal when coach Dan Carey took over the Hamilton girls basketball program: creating a rivalry with Divine Savior Holy Angels.
"We weren't anywhere close at the time," he said. "For it to become a rivalry, you have to compete. We've been going back and forth, and now I think you could use that word and it would be really appropriate. It's a game you look forward to on both sides."
This time around, it was DSHA that got the better of it, winning a thrilling 49-47 outcome in overtime at HHS on Feb. 21. The Chargers had already wrapped up the Greater Metro Conference title, but Carey said his team wasn't passing off the regular-season finale as merely a pre-playoff exhibition.
"You would have never known that this game had no bearing on the conference at all," Carey said. "Our kids wanted it bad, and so did they. We felt like we should have won the game. They made some tough shots, and they got the win. Give them the credit for sure, but we felt like we let one get away."
The game marked the fourth time in five meetings that the two teams went to overtime, including the third meeting in a row.
"I had so many people come up to me the last three games (against DSHA) and say that's the best girls high school game they've ever seen," Carey said. "To happen once is incredible, but three times … these kids fight on both sides. This is an opponent I wanted to become a rival of ours when we got here."
Arike Ogunbowale, the reigning league Player of the Year for DSHA, pulled up from 22 feet and tied the game with a banked-in 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds to force overtime. Mackenzie Latt, who delivered a tremendous line for Hamilton, had one last look before the buzzer sounded.
"I thought we did about as well as we could have on her," Carey said of defending Ogunbowale. "She made some good passes. She found some open teammates all the way down to the last basket of the game. She found some open teammates, but I thought we made her work for a lot of what she got. I was pretty pleased."
Ogunbowale also delivered in overtime. She drove the length of the court, drew defenders to her and passed to Sami Leach under the basket for a game-winning layup with 1.2 seconds to play.
The setback was Hamilton's first in the GMC, and the Chargers closed the year at 20-2 overall and 13-1 in league play. DSHA improved to 19-3 and 12-2. If they meet again one more time, it would come in the state championship game in Green Bay. Playoffs for both teams begin Friday.
Latt finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds, four steals, four assists and zero turnovers, plus she drew the assignment of guarding Ogunbowale most of the game and never picked up a defensive foul. The team was missing freshman guard Taylor Klug (sprained ankle), shifting Latt to the role of primary defender.
"She played 35 of the 36 minutes, and I thought she was incredible," Carey said. "I got some really cool feedback from some smart basketball people at the game, and it was definitely outstanding."
She wasn't the only standout. Hannah Menzia played what Carey said might have been her best game in a Hamilton uniform, finishing with 15 points and one turnover at point.
"She was really good getting to the rim and finishing," Carey said.
Carey said he expects Klug to be available for Friday's battle, to be played at home against Homestead or Hartford. The winner would get either Menomonee Falls or Arrowhead, and both present serious concerns.
Knoebel competes at state
By now, this is old hat for Hamilton wrestling standout Nick Knoebel.
The senior, who finished his career with the third-most wins in the Chargers' storied history, won two of his four matches at the WIAA Division 1 individual state meet in Madison over the weekend and ended the year at 37-6.
With a win over Muskego's Connor Price in the opening round, 7-3, Knoebel staged a bit of an upset to kick off the tournament at 152 pounds.
"That could have been my last match ever, which is what I was thinking going into it," Knoebel said. "I lost to that kid pretty handily the last time we wrestled (in the Pewaukee Invite earlier this year)."
Price - ranked No. 4 in the state heading into the final week of the season - came away with a 6-2 edge Jan. 26. But this time, Knoebel was the victor and advanced into the quarterfinals.
"In the first period, he shot right away, he had my leg, and that's actually a position I'm kind of comfortable with," Knoebel said. "He had my leg for a long part of the first period, but I was able to get him down to the ground and get a takedown. That set the tone for the rest of the match. (My) Favorite part of that match was turning him to his back, the crowd kind of erupted, and that was pretty awesome."
Knoebel fell to Rory Shine of Badger in the quarterfinals, 10-7, though he rallied back from a 4-0 deficit. The Hamilton senior added a 10-1 win over Cody Elsbury of Burlington before falling via pin to highly ranked Travis Hettinga of Wausau West in the back draw.
Knoebel came away with 120 wins, behind only Josh Pinter and A.J. Morgan in school lore. He ends his career with three conference championships and three trips to the state meet.
"The consistency is No. 1," coach Doug Pulvermacher said. "He's been a reliable member on varsity since walking in the door as a freshman. You know exactly what you're' going to get out of Nick, hard work and a challenging partner and someone who doesn't like to lose. He's a good teammate, and I'm extremely proud."
Knoebel went 0-3 at the state meet as a sophomore and junior.
"This year I got used to the crowd and used to being at state," Knoebel said. "Just how huge it is out there can be kind of nerve-racking the first couple times you go."
Knoebel, who plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for business, said this is probably the end of the wrestling road for him.
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