Arrowhead knocks Chargers from playoffs
Injury to Latt in crunchtime crucial in regional final upset
The Hamilton girls basketball team endured its share of nicks and bruises this season, losing senior starter Jenny Shernell for the year with a torn ACL and missing several players for various stretches of time with injuries and illness.
But heading into the regional final against Arrowhead on Saturday, the one thing that had not befallen the Chargers was anything sidelining All-State candidate Mackenzie Latt. When it came, it couldn't have come at a worse time.
Latt went down with a right knee injury in the fourth quarter, and red-hot Arrowhead - riding a momentum swing throughout the fourth quarter already - put the finishing touches on a crushing 46-40 loss. The top-seeded Chargers were kept from the sectional for a second straight year, while fourth-seeded Arrowhead advanced to face Waukesha West on Thursday.
Arrowhead rattled off a 27-11 run to close the game after the Chargers led late in the third, 29-19.
Latt finished with 13 points for the Chargers (21-3), but crumpled to the floor along the baseline after a scramble for the ball out of bounds with 3:13 to play. She was helped to the sideline, putting no pressure on her right knee, and finished the game on the bench.
It was a somber finish for Hamilton, which won its second straight Greater Metro Conference title this season. Meanwhile, Arrowhead - a team that already has wins over highly ranked New Berlin Eisenhower, Mukwonago and Waukesha West since Jan. 29 - marched onward.
"Without (Latt) in the game the last two minutes, it's a different basketball game," Arrowhead coach Rick Witte said. "We were playing well, finally getting vertical and attacking the rim, getting some defensive rebounds … with her down low, it's tough to get to the basket. So those last 2 1/2 minutes, we really took advantage of that."
Fortunately, an MRI on Monday showed that Latt did not sustain ligament damage.
Hawks take control
Arrowhead's Vanessa Voss, fouled on the play that resulted in Latt's injury, sank 1-of-2 free throws to break a 35-35 tie and give the Warhawks their first lead of the night. Arrowhead hit 11-of-15 free throws in the fourth quarter and never trailed again, though Hamilton baskets by Hannah Menzia twice drew the Chargers back within one possession.
"We didn't quite get the looks we wanted, and they started to get to the basket and ran up the foul total," Hamilton coach Dan Carey said. "And they're a good free-throw shooting team. We did well in the first half defending without fouling and keeping them off the line, but as the fouls added up, they hit their free throws."
Arrowhead forced nine turnovers in the fourth quarter alone and 21 overall.
"They're so much longer and bigger than we are and sitting in that zone," Witte said. "If we didn't start turning defense into offense, we were going to watch this game slip away. We put that diamond full-court trap on, and it worked out. We weren't going to sit back and let this happen. We figured out how to box out and transition."
Hamilton nursed a 20-17 lead into halftime, and though the Warhawks hit the first basket of the second half, Hamilton's 9-0 run put the Warhawks on red alert.
Arrowhead shot just 2-of-13 in the third quarter and found itself down entering the fourth, 29-22, only because of a Smith 3-point play as the final points of the period.
The Warhawks (16-8) were still down by a 33-24 count with 5:41 to play after a Taylor Klug bucket. Perhaps the biggest Arrowhead basket of the night came less than a minute later, when Tori Miller banked in a 3-pointer and drew a foul, a 4-point play that had the Warhawks within 33-30.
Hamilton also fell in upset fashion to Waukesha West in last year's regional.
"Rick is as good as a coach and as classy of a coach as you'll find," Carey said. "He's got them doing the right things. … We kind of lost our composure a little bit there, and credit to them, they took advantage.
"I'm proud of (my team). It's the most special group I ever coached, and I don't want it to end. I love them."
Boys had banner year
This will go down in Hamilton history as one of the most successful seasons ever. Since 1962, when Hamilton first opened, the Chargers have never racked up as many wins as they did this year in the 21-3 campaign.
The Chargers, co-champion in the Greater Metro Conference along with Brookfield Central at 13-1, lost two games in overtime, one coming against the Lancers and the other at Wisconsin Lutheran.
Last weekend, Hamilton was defeated by Arrowhead, winners of the Classic 8 Conference, in the WIAA Division 1 regional final at home. It was an upset, but not a loss that will characterize the season.
"It's really been a magical season for us," Hamilton head boys basketball coach Andy Cerroni said. "Right now, I think it still bothers the kids a little, but in a few weeks and certainly years from now, they'll look back and realize just how well they played this season. We had a very good basketball team. It's difficult to win consistently like this team did. They should all be proud of what they accomplished. I certainly am."
Junior Brady Ellingson started all 24 games for the Chargers, putting up eye-popping numbers. He averaged 21.3 points per game, connecting on 85.2 percent from the free-throw line. He shot better than 51 percent from the field for the season and made good on 86 3-point field goals.
Senior point guard Mark Gryszkiewicz also started every game this winter. He led the team in assists with 89 while running the offense and committed only 56 turnovers all year.
Senior Tony Gumina was the team's enforcer. Gumina topped the Chargers rebounding with 121 and shot 52.4 percent from the field for the season, starting all 24 games. Gumina averaged 10.8 points per contest.
Senior Jake Knueppel was Mr. Versatiluty for Hamilton, guarding ballhandlers as well as those possessing inside skills. Knueppel started all 24 games and shot 54.8 percent from the field and made nearly 80 percent of his free throws.
Four other players - junior Austin Kendziorski, senior Kyle Rouse, senior Aaron Konop and junior Brett Buehler - appeared in all 24 games for Hamilton.
Others on the roster were junior Drew Patterson, junior Ryan Warzon, junior Sam Olson, junior Jacob Rink, senior Spencer Ezell, sophomore Dominique Haskins, senior Mitch Willer, junior Mitch Geszvain and junior Dan Lunowa.
Cerroni got assistance from Dan Heckman, Tony Resch, Josh King, Kevin Kempen, Jim Jacobsen and Justin Seely.
Jehlen Barner-Killebrew was the team's student-assistant, and Nathan Lemen kept track of the stats.
"We had a lot of depth on this team, which allowed us to do different things against different opponents, especially defensively which was a luxury," Cerroni said. "All in all it was a special season for a special group of kids that won't ever be forgotten."
Chris Schuck contributed to this story.
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