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Late-season OHS surge comes to halt

Feb. 28, 2014

Winners of seven straight to close the regular season and mindful of a five-point loss to Sun Prairie in last season's regional, the Oconomowoc boys basketball team again hit the road to face the Cardinals with their eyes on keeping their streak going.

Instead, the Raccoons ran head-first into a buzzsaw.

Sun Prairie's 1-3-1 defense was stifling as Oconomowoc managed just four field goals in the first half, and the Cardinals (15-8) raced out to a 39-13 lead at the break en route to a 69-44 drubbing of the Raccoons (10-13) in a regional semifinal of the WIAA Division 1 tournament.

"I thought we were ready to play," said Oconomowoc senior Nick Pierce. "We've been playing good basketball and felt like, if we could get off to a good start and keep it close, we'd be OK. We didn't do that today, and it snowballed and just killed us."

Things started off well enough when Oconomowoc senior Canton Larson gave the Raccoons a 3-2 lead with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. But Sun Prairie quickly took advantage of seven straight empty possessions by Oconomowoc — five missed shots and two turnovers — to reel off an 11-0 run thanks largely to seven points from Sun Prairie junior Nick Noskowiak.

Another 13-1 run that included a rare four-point play by Noskowiak put the Cardinals up 29-8 midway through the second period.

"(Senior) Shane (Waldon) set a great screen and I was open," said Noskowiak, who scored 16 of his team-high 17 points in the first half. "That was a big momentum boost. We just wanted to play every play like it was the last because we know it's win or go home."

Raccoons sophomore Jarek Berg managed a three-point play to stem the bleeding – Oconomowoc's only field goal of the period – but the Cardinals took off on another 10-0 run. The first-half carnage for Oconomowoc included eight turnovers and a 4-for-17 (24 percent) effort from the field.

"We practiced against the 1-3-1 all week, but you can't practice against the length and the quickness they have," said Pierce, who was limited to 4 first-half points but came on to finish with a game-high 19. "It killed us."

Sun Prairie, meanwhile, lit up the nets at a 55 percent clip (12-for-22) in the first half. Oconomowoc coach Kurt Melton pointed to the Cardinals' shooting as a significant factor in the Raccoons' offensive struggles.

"It's hard to get into your offense when they put 39 points up and we can't get a stop and we're always taking the ball out from under the basket," Melton said. "Good shots were hard to get. They were playing an aggressive zone, and we didn't get the ball movement we were hoping for. Their wing kids did a good job, but I don't think our passing was quick enough."

Any hopes Oconomowoc had of mounting a rally were extinguished when Sun Prairie opened the second half with a 5-0 run capped by a steal and slam by Waldon that pushed Sun Prairie's lead to 31 points at 44-13 with 6 minutes, 20 seconds to play in the third. Oconomowoc finally began to make some shots after that, but it was far too little, far too late.

Junior Malik Robinson added 13 and sophomore Sam Kerr scored 10 for the Cardinals, who advance to face Middleton in the regional championship Saturday.

Junior Chris Schick scored seven points for Oconomowoc, joining senior Canton Larson (five points) as the only Raccoons to manage more than one field goal.

"I thought it was important to take away the high post – I know they've had success with that – and not allow (Pierce) and (Larson) opportunities," said Sun Prairie coach Jeff Boos. "(Pierce) has been playing well and I thought we did a good job of holding him to four in the first half and keeping (Larson) at bay at the same time. … It looked like when opportunities presented themselves, we were able to take advantage and we got some good looks."

It was the last game for six Oconomowoc seniors, including Pierce, Larson, Tyler Galloway, Brett Eckert, Nate Nord and Colin Valley. Afterward, Melton remained proud of what his team accomplished in rallying from a 2-11 start to win eight of its last nine regular-season games. He noted the development of younger players who saw significant court time when several starters were out with injuries.

"These kids never made excuses. They always had the desire to get better and they trusted each other to do that," Melton said. "When we started that (regular-season winning streak), we thought we could win out … and we worked for it and it happened. That's a testament to these kids. We had three kids who were captains, but any one of those seniors, you could look at as having led in some way.

"And that's not taking anything away from the younger kids. They got important minutes and as a team, we just got more skilled and athletic as the season went along."

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