Marquette won the rubber game of the season against Brookfield Central in the WIAA regional finals on Saturday, March 5, 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 match-up decided who would win the 'season series.'

The game was a thriller until 9 minutes, 37 seconds were left in the second half, when the game was 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.

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

Central freshman guard Gage Malensek scored when he missed a shot, leaped in the air, one-handed the ball and banked in a rebound shot. Then senior forward Andrew Bruggink sank two free throws to cut the lead to 45-39 with 7:15 left to play.

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

The Hilltoppers hit seven of 10 from the free-throw line with a basket by Coffey, and the Lancers had Bruggink with a rebound basket, freshman Cole Nau with two free throws and Bruggink with two free throws to close out the scoring with 5.9 seconds left to play.

Wandrey reflected on the last seven minutes of the game.

'There was a combination of some things,' he said. 'They were very, very physical. 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, I give them credit. 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 as 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, and then he passed to Bruggink, who hit a jumper, and finally 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 six minutes to go in the second. They were 15-of-20 frees for the game, all in the second half.

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

Tough defense

Marquette coach Casey Kowalewski said his defense was the key to his team's success.

'Our solid foundation of defense sets the tone for our offense,' he said. 'We got some length, we 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 (his players) really did a nice job, just wanting to get possession.'

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

We played them tighter in the second half,' Kowalewski said. 'We would just switch into them. We felt we had good match-ups 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 20 points, and Malensek had 13. Marquette's Alexander had 17, while Coffey and Van Rueden each scored 12 points.

Despite the loss, Wandrey was proud of his team, which finished 16-8 while handing MUHS (21-3) one of their 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.'