Arrowhead found a way to defy the odds and make the improbable reality and now finds itself one game away from a state championship.
The Warhawks overcame a 12-point deficit over the final minutes of regulation to force overtime, where Tommy Durand hit a go-ahead layup with 6.3 seconds left after nearly losing the ball. Alec Hamilton blocked a shot attempt by Cole Nau with 0.8 seconds remaining, and a last-ditch try by Andres Peralta-Werns rolled off the rim, giving Arrowhead a 63-62 victory over Brookfield Central in a thrilling WIAA Division 1 semifinal March 17 at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Arrowhead (22-5) will face Stevens Point (23-4) in the Division 1 state championship game at 8:15 p.m. Saturday. The Panthers, two-time reigning state champions in D1, advanced to their third consecutive title game with a 48-41 win over Madison Memorial.
"I'm so proud of our seniors," Arrowhead coach Craig Haase said. "They just have willed their way to wins all year long. Not a lot of people have given them a lot of credit to get through a lot of games, but somehow, they find a way in the second half.
"Down the stretch, down 12 with (5 minutes) to go, they could have easily packed it in, but they decided they wanted to play one more night."
After both teams fought offensive struggles in the first half, the second half became a game of runs.
Arrowhead used a 6-0 spurt to take a 40-39 advantage with 10:56 to play only to watch Brookfield Central answer with a 10-0 surge to take a 49-40 lead on a 3-pointer by Peralta-Werns with 7:25 left.
Trailing 56-44, the Warhawks needed a spark. Marko Matejic was there to provide one, hitting a 3-pointer to cut it to 56-47 with 5:01 remaining. It was the first of three triples in the span of 1 minute, 40 seconds for Arrowhead, as Ben Seefeld drilled a shot from distance before Matejic hit another to make it 56-53 with 3:21 to play.
"Marko is a great player," Arrowhead senior guard Trevell Cunningham said. "I just believe in him. I have so much confidence in him. Every time he touches the ball, I know it is going to go in. I was just so glad to see those go in and him spark us with triples."
Late slide for Lancers
After Arrowhead tied the game over two trips to the foul line, Brookfield Central's potential go-ahead basket by Gage Malensek was wiped out by an offensive foul call on the sophomore with 1:24 on the clock. The Warhawks held for the final shot, but Trevell Cunningham's jumper rimmed out to send the game to overtime tied at 56.
Brookfield Central went scoreless over the final 5 minutes, 45 seconds of regulation, going 0 for 2 from the field with three turnovers and a missed front end of the bonus during the drought.
"We've closed out games all year by being tough with the ball and finishing plays and stepping up and making free throws," Brookfield Central coach Dan Wandrey said. "Unfortunately, we really didn't do that. They got up into us defensively. We were trying to run some clock but take advantage of that aggressive defense and get to the basket. I don't want to say it was a collapse, but it was an avalanche of different things."
Malensek hit a 3-pointer to give the Lancers a 59-58 lead in overtime, but he fouled out on an offensive foul with 1:37 left in the extra session.
With the Warhawks down, 60-58, after Chris Post splitting a pair of free throws for the Lancers, Matejic connected on another triple to put Arrowhead in front at 61-60 with 1:13 left.
A jumper by Nau hit the back of the rim, but Sam Rohde was there for the easy putback to put Brookfield Central up, 62-61, with 24 seconds remaining. Cunningham quickly brought the ball down the court, penetrated and kicked to Durand, who dished to Hamilton before getting the ball back. The senior drove the middle of the lane but almost lost the basketball as he tried to crossover Rohde. He corralled it and threw up a tough left-handed shot that went in with 6.3 seconds left.
"He was right up on me, so I was just trying to get around him to find a teammate or get an opening to the basket," Durand said. "I kind of lost it on my left, but then I saw the hoop and saw the opening, and I lifted it with my left. I was glad to see it roll in."
Nau drove the lane on the other end but was greeted by a thunderous block by Hamilton. With 0.8 seconds remaining, Rohde inbounded it to a cutting Peralta-Werns under the hoop, but his layup attempt caught the front of the rim and bounced off.
"We went to a switching defense," Haase said. "We switched everything. I thought that worked well. Alec Hamilton made a heck of an athletic play. On the inbounds play, it was a play we scouted and went over. We didn't switch when we should have. He got open on the weak side."
Both teams struggled to find any kind of offensive rhythm in the first half, as the Warhawks led, 28-25, at the break. Arrowhead was 12 for 31 (38.7 percent) from the field and 1 for 9 on 3-point tries, and Brookfield Central was 10 for 33 (30.3 percent) and 1 for 12 from distance in the opening half.
Cunningham fell one assist shy of a triple-double with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. Seefeld added 16 points and 6 rebounds, Hamilton had 13 points and 8 rebounds and Matejic contributed 11 points and 8 rebounds off the bench.
Malensek led the Lancers with 18 points and four assists, while Peralta-Werns had 17 points. Nau finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists, Rohde scored 8 points and Post had 7 points and 11 rebounds.
While letting a late lead slip away will be difficult to swallow, the Lancers will return five of the seven players that saw the floor.
"It is the first time any of have been here," Malensek said. "There are a lot of lessons to learn and a lot of film to watch. It was one game short for the seniors, but it was a great experience. We are hoping to get back here next year."