Wauwatosa East came to Brookfield Central with a chance to take over a share of first place Tuesday night, but sophomore point guard Gage Malensek made sure that didn't happen.
Malensek was 9-for-9 from the free throw line and finished with a game-high 24 points, including 18 in the second half. As a result, the Lancers stayed in first place with a 7-1 record, while the Red Raiders fell to third place with a 5-3 mark, behind second-place Menomonee Falls (6-2).
Malensek always seems to have the ball in his hands down the stretch, and that is not by accident according to Central coach Dan Wandrey.
"It's a great attribute, and he is very confident in regards to that," he said. "His teammates know and look for him, too. What's nice about it he's a good decision-maker, he's a good free-throw shooter, he's a good finisher. That's all a lot of pretty good stuff. I've had the luxury as a coach to have some players like that, even on my girls teams. It's really nice. And he's only a sophomore, so he will be around for a couple more years."
Tosa East coach Tim Arndorfer agreed.
"That's a gritty team over there," he said. "Gage is a heck of a player. Putting the ball in his hands, he's either going to score, or you're going to foul him. That's pretty impressive."
Tosa East, which trailed 22-19 at halftime, started the second half on an 11-2 run. Dane Mikkelson hit a 3-pointer, Elijah Flenorl hit 1 of 2 free throws and Mahlik Lindsey drilled a 3-pointer for a 30-24 lead.
Andres Peralta-Werns scored on a drive to the hoop for Central, but Mikkelson hit another three before Malensek scored on a drive. Flenorl hit yet another three, and Tosa East had it's largest lead of the night, 35-28.
Malensek responded with 5 quick points, and Sam Rohde's jumper tied the game at 35 with 10:40 to play.
"It was a dogfight, and it came down to the end," Arndorfer said.
The Red Raiders outscored Central, 16-15, to take their last lead at 51-50 on a 3-pointer by Deshun Hunter at 3:24.
But then Malensek hit a jumper to give Central a 52-51 lead, and Cole Nau hit two free throws. Lindsey stole the ball from Nau at half-court and scored to cut it to 54-53, but Chris Post split free throws and Malensek hit two more for a 57-53 edge. With 8.5 seconds to play, Rohde's long pass to Nau led to the night's final basket.
"They make plays at the end, make their free throws," Arndorfer said. "But our first-half problem was our second half problem. We missed too many lay-ups and gave up too many second chances.
Malensek said defense was key to the victory.
"We were first in defense (in the league standings), and they're third, and our coach was talking about how that's a battle we have to win," he said. "It shows how tough we are."
Arndorfer was pleased with his defense against a versatile offensive team like the Lancers.
"I think our defense has been pretty solid," he said. "It keeps us in games, especially against a group like this. They have so many weapons. I'm not disappointed in our effort. It's still little things and we didn't do those."
Wandrey also credited the Red Raiders.
"They defensively really grind you," he said. "I thought we squandered some opportunities that we had. I said to our team, we as coaches got everything we expected from Tosa East. They're tough, they're gritty.
"There was a timeout at 4:07, and from there, we executed very well. They got into the paint a couple times, but we contested just enough.
"Andres was really active on the boards, offensively and defensively, which was a credit to him."