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Marquette won the rubber match of the season against Brookfield Central in the WIAA regional final Saturday, defeating the Lancers, 54-47, before a packed house at MUHS.

After losing at Marquette, 69-63, on Dec. 15, the Lancers came back and whipped the Hilltoppers, 80-66, on Jan. 29 at home. So Saturday’s postseason matchup decided who would win the season series and earn a berth in the sectional.

The game was tight until 9 minutes, 37 seconds were left in the second half, tied at 37-37 on Central senior Henry Mirsberger’s first free throw out of two chances.

But then the Hilltoppers scored 8 straight points for a 45-37 lead, and the Lancers never saw the lead again.

SenioLane Von Rueden, a 6-7 senior forward, scored on a drive and then Ryan Coffey, a 6-5 junior forward scored 6 in a row on four free throws and a jumper.

Freshman guard Gage Malensek then scored when he leapt in the air to rebound his own miss and one-handed a bank shot through. Senior forward Andrew Bruggink sank two free throws to cut the lead to 45-39 with 7:15 left to play.

But Central and MUHS each had one basket the rest of the way.

“They were very, very physical," Central coach Dan Wandrey said. "We don’t ever handle that very well. So they deserve some credit. I think we got some decent shots. They had something to do with that. They made it very difficult at times.

“We ran some isolation plays with Gage and Andrew and were successful. But when they took that physicality to us, I don’t think we handled it very well. We started standing around a little bit and didn’t cut has hard as we needed to do.”

First half run

Trailing, 27-19, with 2:21 left in the first half, Central closed out the half with a 6-0 run to make it 27-25 at intermission.

Malensek hit a jumper, then passed to Bruggink, who hit a jumper and freshman Cole Nau stole the ball, raced down the court and scored with 0.1 second on the clock.

In the first half, the Hilltoppers had six baskets on offensive rebounds, while Bruggink had the Lancers only one according to Wandrey.

“That’s 12 points and we’re down by two at half,” he said. “Give them half of those. The second half, I don’t know what the free-throw count was. We had one foul in the first half, and they were in the bonus with 6 minutes to go in the second. They had 15 of 20 free throws for the game, all in the second half.

“To me that’s the other side (of the loss). We couldn’t keep them out of the paint. And besides, you aren’t going to win a lot of games shooting 30 percent.”

Marquette coach Casey Kowalewski said defense was the key to success.

“Our solid foundation of defense sets the tone for our offense,” he said. “We've got some length, we've got some size, we can force them into tough shots. As long as we get the rebound.

“The last 5-6 minutes of the game, they really did a nice job, just wanting to get possession.”

Central only had three 3-pointers in the game, all coming in the first 9 minutes.

"We played them tighter in the second half,” Kowalewski said. “We would just switch into them. We felt we had good matchups either way. We told them not to go for shot fakes, communicate through the screens and switching when necessary.”

Central did get the lead back with an 11-8 run in the second half, as Malensek topped off the run with a jumper and a 36-35 lead with 10:55 left to play.

Bruggink finished his career with a 20-point game, and Malensek had 13. Alexander had 17, while Coffey and Van Rueden each scored 12 points for MUHS.

Despite the loss, Wandrey talked about his team, which finished 16-8, while handing MUHS (21-3) one of its two Greater Metro Conference losses.

“I’m proud of our seniors,” he said. “I'm proud of all our guys. We became a pretty good team.”