Despite being the top seed in its bracket, Brookfield Central's boys basketball team was hardly the popular pick to emerge from its sectional. The Lancers featured a roster without any players boasting sectional experience, while opponents Milwaukee Riverside and Milwaukee Vincent had battle-tested rosters.
But as it turned out, the Lancers were ready for the stage.
Brookfield Central took an early lead and had an answer for each and every push Milwaukee Vincent made in a 74-66 victory in a WIAA Division 1 sectional final March 11 at West Allis Central High School.
The win sends the Lancers to the state tournament for the ninth time in school history and for the first time since 2008. Brookfield Central (24-2) will face Arrowhead (21-5) in a Division 1 state semifinal at 8:15 p.m. Friday, March 17 at the Kohl Center in Madison.
"I don’t want to take it for granted, but our guys are tough," Brookfield Central coach Dan Wandrey said. "We’re not ripped, we’re not big, but there’s a mental toughness to them. They don’t get caught up in stuff.
"Whatever moment we’ve been in – if it is a Brookfield East gym with the whole town there, playing down at Concordia in the WBY, a regional final, a sectional semifinal or a sectional final – there’s been no moment too big for them. Our guys work really hard from a young age on. That gives them confidence. They believe in each other. They’ve experienced a lot of different stuff."
Brookfield Central coach Dan Wandrey cuts down the net after the Lancers downed Milwaukee Vincent, 74-66, in a WIAA Division 1 sectional final at West Allis Central on March 11. Andrew Gruman/Now Media Group
Peralta-Werns comes out firing
As the warm-up clock wound down, Andres Peralta-Werns kept shooting from the right corner. And kept missing.
"I was getting a little frustrated," Peralta-Werns said. "I was still getting used to the background. I made some adjustments, deciding to jump more and put more arc on it."
Before heading to the huddle, the junior was encouraged to shoot once more by teammates Matt Flynn and Gage Malensek. He drained it, and it set the tone for the remainder of the afternoon. Peralta-Werns hit 5 of 6 attempts from distance and scored 17 of his game-high 26 points in the first half, as Brookfield Central jumped out to a 17-7 lead and held a 35-28 advantage at halftime.
"Andres is a tough kid," Wandrey said. "I don’t think you’d get any argument that I’m a tough guy to play for. He feels a brunt of it. It doesn’t change his resolve. He was incredible. When he shoots in rhythm, he’s really good. He was in a good rhythm today."
Holding off the Vikings
Cole Nau hit a pair of free throws to put the Lancers up 42-37 with 12:11 to play, but Kente Rushing Jr. hit a turnaround jumper and Andrew Lewis scored in transition off a long defensive rebound to bring Vincent to with 42-41.
Providing the answer was Sam Rohde, who split the Vikings pressure after receiving a pass from Nau and drove for a layup. Vincent again pulled to within a point as Kobi Lumdsen-Barnes converted his third offensive rebound of the possession for a putback. He was fouled on the make but couldn't hit the free throw try that would have tied the game.
After Vincent (19-5) forced a stop on defense, Alfonzo Fields missed a 3-point attempt for the lead. Malensek drove the lane on the other end before dishing to Rohde, who drilled a 3-pointer to put Brookfield Central up 47-43 with 8:39 remaining.
The Vikings made it difficult on Peralta-Werns to receive a clean catch in the second half, but he was successful on the only open look at a 3-pointer he got. His triple with 7:00 left gave the Lancers a 54-48 lead, and Malensek followed by scoring in transition off a long 3-point miss by Justin Brookens, giving Brookfield Central a 56-48 lead with 6:11 to play.
Vincent kept pushing and moved to within 60-56 on a jumper by Lewis. Malensek, who was held to just 4 points in the first half, made four straight free throws before Nau made an excellent pass to a cutting Peralta-Werns for a layup that made it 66-58 with 1:20 remaining, all but sealing the win for the Lancers.
Brookfield Central celebrates its first trip to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament since 2008 after a 74-66 victory over Milwaukee Vincent on March 11 at West Allis Central High School. Andrew Gruman/Now Media Group
Headed to Madison
"There are going to be ups and downs but you have to ride that even line," Malensek said. "You can’t get too down on yourself and you can’t get too high up. You have to have that next play mentality. We did that tonight.
"Everyone wants the ball in those pressure situations. Everyone trusts each other with the ball in those pressure situations. Nobody shies away from it."
Brookfield Central took just about as strong of a shot as Vincent, ranked No. 8 in the Division 1 coaches poll, could give. The Vikings shot 47.9 percent (23 for 48) from the field, connected on 15-of-19 free-throw tries and turned the ball over just seven times.
But the Lancers were also strong with the ball with only eight turnovers against extreme Vincent pressure and shot 56.8 percent (21 for 37), hit 10-of-16 (62.5 percent) shots from beyond the arc and went 22 for 26 (84.6 percent) from the foul line, including hitting their first 20 attempts from the stripe.
Peralta-Werns went 9 for 12 from the field and 6 for 8 from distance to finish with 26 points. Malensek scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half, going 12 for 12 from the free-throw line after the break. Nau added 16 points, five rebounds and five assists, and Rohde had 10 points.
"Coach Wandrey had their guys ready to play," Vincent coach Ravonte Dantzler said. "I thought we were ready to play, but we didn't stick to our game plan defensively. We let them shoot threes and get comfortable.
"We wanted to limit their possessions and try to turn them over. They are heady, and Gage is a heck of a guard. He's the reason they're in the situation they're in now and going to state."
Hungry for more
When the postgame awards ceremony didn't go as planned, the Brookfield Central students stormed the court and celebrated with the players. But as much as there was the sense of happiness and accomplishment on the faces of the Lancers, there certainly wasn't the complete satisfaction of just making it to Madison.
Brookfield Central thinks it can win its first-ever boys basketball state championship, and the Lancers yet again showed capable of doing just that by taking down two City Conference powers.
"It was safe to say we had one of the hardest brackets out there," Peralta-Werns said. "We didn’t back down from it. We felt it was the best thing we could have had to make sure we played as many hard games as we could before we got to state so we’d be ready and prepared."
"We heard people saying that we are 22-2 because our conference wasn’t the best and all that stuff," Malensek added. "We proved ourselves and want to keep proving them wrong."