Germantown coach Steve Showalter and Kettle Moraine coach Brad Bestor were among those on hand Tuesday at Homestead High School to watch the Highlanders face Arrowhead in a nonconference boys basketball battle. The next time coaches from the four teams will be in the same room is Sunday, when the annual seeding meeting will hash out where each team falls in the WIAA postseason.
It was Homestead that came away with a huge feather in its cap for that very occasion.
With a 56-51 win over Arrowhead, the Highlanders attained the inside track on the No. 3 seed, with Germantown and Kettle Moraine the momentary odds-on favorites for the top spots in a loaded corner of the sectional.
"When we dropped to Port (Washington on Jan. 24), that kind of put us behind the 8-ball, but these guys have responded all year with stepping up," Homestead coach Kevin McKenna said. "We talked all week about how this game is a bracket-buster game. We knew going into the seeding meeting on Sunday, this was going to play big."
Jerrod Walton scored 23 points and could do no wrong for the Highlanders, and Luke Mueller caught fire for a key fourth-quarter stretch to give the Highlanders a late lead.
"We got better at that over the course of the season, responding to other teams' runs," said Mueller, who drained back-to-back 3-pointers and then hit three free throws when he was fouled taking another three, a 9-0 run that turned a 40-39 Arrowhead into a 48-40 Homestead lead. "After the Germantown game, especially. We got our spirits back up and started to turn the game around."
Arrowhead led by as much as 34-26 in the second half, but Homestead closed the quarter on a 9-0 run, with Walton cashing in on the final 5 points. In fact, Walton hit buzzer beaters in each of the first three quarters, though the first one was waved off. By the fourth quarter, he didn't need another.
"I feel like I've always had confidence," Walton said. "At the beginning of the season, I was more of a passive player, trying to get others involved. I saw when I was gone (with injury), we were struggling a little bit, I realized I have to pick my game up and have more confidence in the scoring area, not just passing and defense."
Walton's excellent outing helped offset a 2-for-14 shooting performance by Jaylen Key. Arrowhead big man Billy Hirschfeld was a key part of that defensive effort, and he also went 6-of-8 from the floor and maintained effectiveness despite foul trouble.
"We really felt he had to stay in the game to give us some consistency inside," Arrowhead coach Craig Haase said. "He's a tough guy to scorer over. When he's guarding Key, and Key goes 2-for-14, Billy has something to do with that."
But Mueller presented a different challenge entirely. The big man with the shooting touch finished with 12 points.
"They've got some big guys, but they're not as long as we are all over the court," McKenna said. "When you have a big like him that can step out and hit the three, that's a really nice advantage to have."
Matt Calewarts scored 14 points, Hirschfeld 12 and Bryce Nze 11. Arrowhead (14-6) has still won 10 of 12.
"We had some opportunities and we just didn't finish early on in the game," Haase said. "It was a good game, two good teams going back and forth. I thought our kids played very well. Both teams wanted to win this game, obviously for seeding purposes. We're fine; we're playing very well. I'm happy with our kids' effort."
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