The rivalry between the Wisconsin Lutheran and Arrowhead boys basketball teams has been outstanding over the last eight years. Last year's wild 91-90 nonconference victory by the visiting Warhawks turned out to be the gem of the series.
Tuesday's matchup between the two outstanding programs was another beauty.
Hosting the Vikings in the first game of the season, Arrowhead let a 55-49 lead disappear with 7:14 remaining in the game and then watched Wisconsin Lutheran go on an 18-6 run in the next 5:24 before eventually falling to the visitors, 71-67.
While the game didn't have the all of the offense of last year's pairing, it had plenty of excitement. By the time the final horn sounded, the game had featured 17 lead changes in the 36-minute battle, and it wasn't until the final six seconds that Wisco was finally able to put the game away.
"It was a great basketball game all night," said veteran Arrowhead coach Craig Haase. "After this one, I feel like it's March already. The Walz family does a tremendous job at Wisco, and it's a really good program. We want to keep this thing going for many more years. We had a hard time finishing at times tonight, and that was the difference. For the first game and for us to have a lot of new guys on the court, I'll take it. We played hard."
Arrowhead got some strong performances from its trio of senior veterans. Trevell Cunningham led the Warhawks with 22 points, 14 of which came in the second half. Ben Seefeld had 20 tallies, 12 of which came in the opening half. Alec Hamilton, after going scoreless in the first half, tossed in 11 points in the second half.
After the two teams went back and forth exchanging leads in the game's first 26 minutes, the Warhawks went on a 9-0 run to take a 55-49 lead. In that rally, Hamilton had 5 points and Cunningham and Seefeld had 2 each.
But from there, it was Wisco's turn to shine. The Vikings answered by going on an 18-6 surge that gave them a 67-61 lead with 1:50 to play. Arrowhead never got closer than 2 points the rest of the game.
"We had a little lull on offense in the second half in that one stretch, and that hurt us," Haase said. "We missed some free throws, missed some easy shots, and that all added up. But for the first game of the season, I thought we did a lot of good things. The good thing is we have five practices before we play again. We can fix some of the things that went wrong tonight."
The two teams battled to a 25-25 deadlock at halftime. Neither team led by more than 5 points in the first half.
AHS did a lot of good things in the early going of the second half. Hamilton got the Warhawks rolling, and Jonathan Chycinski, Marko Matejic, Cunningham and Seefeld also had big hoops.
When the Vikings went on their decisive 18-6 run, AHS missed seven of nine shots in one stretch.
"It was back and forth game all night," Wisco coach Ryan Walz said. "It was a typical Arrowhead game. We love playing them, and it's been a great rivalry. Arrowhead always plays tough basketball. We had that good run late, and that was the difference. I challenged our kids when we got behind, and they responded. It was a good test for us so early in the season."
Wisco put four players in double figures. Junior Brunard Williams led the way with 15 points and he was followed by senior Marcellus Duckworth with 15, junior Quincy Minor 14 and senior OJ James 12.