On second thought: An oral history of the controversial Super Tuesday battle in 2011

Germantown was on the cusp of a dynasty, and undefeated Appleton East was also one of the best in the state. When they met in 2011 in a newly created "Super Tuesday" format, the game itself was already dubious. How it ended made the contest an unforgettable and controversial moment in time.

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Appleton East inbounded the ball with 3.8 seconds to go in overtime of a tied Super Tuesday battle March 15, 2011. When Caleb Zeegers grabbed an air ball and scooped it in for the game winner, time should have already expired. Courtesy of NFHS

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“Clock never started."

Television announcer Matt Menzl delivers the observation almost casually in the final moments before his voice escalates to describe a game-winning layup by Appleton East’s Caleb Zeegers. The Patriots were going to the 2011 state tournament, a newly remodeled construct that included the creation of this “Super Tuesday,” where eight Division 1 teams played one extra game beyond the sectional final to secure one of four spots at the Kohl Center for Friday’s state semifinals.

Super Tuesday lasted only one year, and its legacy would be tarnished. Not only were Division 1 schools incensed that fewer teams from the state’s highest enrollments would be represented at state, they were unhappy with the new schedule that featured sectional games on a Thursday and Saturday on a neutral floor, Super Tuesday at a separate neutral location, and state on Friday.  

It was March 15, 2011 when Germantown, a team with one loss, battled undefeated East. The games were televised from the four locations around the state and streamed online, and this was by far the most intriguing of the four meetings. When Zeegers grabbed an air ball and put back the game winner in overtime, East fans rushed the floor to celebrate a 54-52 victory.

The shot, which went through as time expired on a clock that didn’t begin immediately after the ball was inbounded, should have never counted.

It was a moment that served as fuel for a Germantown dynasty, as the Warhawks went on to win the next three state titles and a state-record 69 consecutive games. It was also a moment that many remember as the death of the short-lived Super Tuesday concept.

STEVE SHOWALTER (then-Germantown head coach, current Menomonee Falls head boys coach): I remember when the emails started coming out that they’re thinking about adding Division 5 (in the playoffs), and they were thinking about taking away from Division 1. All Division 1 coaches, email after email, to a man said there’s no way that they’ll take away eight teams in Division 1. That is the excitement of the state tournament. We all grew up with that Thursday game, Class A or Division 1 games, where the biggest and best teams in the state play Thursday afternoon or Thursday night. We thought there was no way it would happen, so we didn’t even put up a fight because we thought there was no possible way they would do that.

JOHN MIELKE (Appleton East coach): To date, this has hurt he overall quality and viewership interest in the tournament. Ethically, Division 1 schools with five times the enrollment size of Division 5 schools were placed on equal-representation footing. This was, and continues to be, completely unfair to the student bodies of the D1 schools. The Super Tuesday format also had built in scheduling issues related to the cancellation of the games because of weather (on the girls side). The new format meant four great games were being played at four different sites instead of one large common site.

ZAK SHOWALTER (Germantown leading scorer, now senior for University of Wisconsin basketball team): Junior year in high school, I wasn’t really aware of everything that was going on. I don’t know if it was political or what it was; I was just trying to play basketball games and doing everything I could to get to state.

DEB HAUSER (associate director, WIAA): Coaches, in particular, couldn’t wrap their head around the idea and didn’t give it a chance to be successful. They were too stuck in the structure we were currently using to advance teams to state. The snowy weather didn’t help, but it was never given a chance to succeed.

SAM MADER (Appleton East forward, who hit 5 of 7 three-pointers in the Super Tuesday win): I was not too excited for Super Tuesday, because it meant one more game to get to state. I wanted to be there already. The concern was that we had made it this far, and last year, we would have been at state already. Now we have to win one more game against a very good team. I think when you have the talent of our team, along with the talent of Germantown that year, it should have been played in Madison. On the other hand, I would have to say that was my favorite game to play because of the packed atmosphere.

LUKE FISCHER (Germantown sophomore post, now senior for Marquette University basketball team): It was definitely the biggest crowd I ever played in front of at the time. It was an awesome experience. We had a team huddle a couple hours before the game, and Coach Showalter told us this place is going to be sold out. ‘Look around right now, because when it comes game time, I don’t want you looking around in awe; I want you to be locked in.' He knew what he was doing and how we were feeling.

STEVE SHOWALTER: I hadn’t been back there (at the Kolf Center in Oshkosh) since I scored 47 against them in 1988 (as a member of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville basketball team). It was a weird Homecoming for me.

ZAK SHOWALTER: Driving to games like that, when fans are outside before the gates have opened, watching the buses drive by … I experience that now in college, but in high school, that was one of the first times I really experienced that. When you’re showing up to the game and people are packed 15 deep in multiple lines to get in the door, that really gets the adrenaline going and got me pumped up to play that game.

STEVE SHOWALTER: We could not move when we first got there. We could not move in the downstairs hallway, the upstairs hallway. I couldn’t get my team to the court. They put us in a freight elevator and said, ‘We’ll transport you from the basement to the gym floor,’ because the gym is upstairs. We get all in there and they push the button, and it gets stuck. We are face to face, front to back, jammed in there and stuck between floors. We had kids that were panicking, kids that couldn’t breathe. It was very interesting. They ultimately got us back down to the basement area, and we got out, and they took us up through the Appleton East students in line to get into the gym. We had to say, ‘Excuse me, excuse me,’ walking through the Appleton East students chanting and chanting. We were already tough and hardened, so I don’t think it bothered us too much.

MALCOLM BOWERS (Germantown’s lone starting senior): The place was jam packed, and my adrenaline was flowing like no other, but we were used to playing in front of big crowds at the Al McGuire Center and having many of our home games packed to capacity. We didn’t feel like they were favorited; it was an even matchup that we knew would be a dog fight until the end.

JOSH MONGAN (junior point guard, now senior at Winona State): They were undefeated at the time, so they should bring a great crowd. There was talk that, for a neutral site, it was closer to Appleton East. But I love going against big crowds. Especially in high school, you eat that stuff up. We still brought a great crowd for how far away it was. They did a great job bringing the energy.

JOHN MIELKE: I really didn’t pay attention to them until we had to play them. Looking back today, Germantown had major talent. Two kids with high-D1 scholarships, another leading Winona State to at least one DII national championship at the point position (Josh Mongan) and wherever the others went to play college ball. We knew they were good, but we had no idea at the time the level of talent they had.

Coming together

ZAK SHOWALTER: The big thing was Luke joined our AAU team that summer, so it was good for us to get more guys playing together. Me, Josh and Smooth (Dan Studer) had played together for five years together in AAU, but we kind of needed a big guy. We knew Luke Fischer was going to be really good, so we should have a look at him and have him join us.

STEVE SHOWALTER: Luke was pretty skinny going into his sophomore year. He had not played as a freshman (on varsity), which surprises people, because you have a 7-footer. He moved up as a freshman, but he wasn’t that big and he wasn’t ready, and we had pretty good players in front of him.

LUKE FISCHER: Coach Showalter always wanted me to play on the Swing (AAU team) with them. The only thing that was hard was that they practiced all the way in Madison twice a week, so it was always a trip. My parents weren’t always quite sure if it was worth it, but eventually, after my freshman year, coach Showalter said it would make me a better player, and I went for it. … I was on JV freshman year and was 6-1 or 6-2. By the start of my sophomore year, I really shot up to 6-8. I scored my career high as a sophomore against Menomonee Falls (33 points on Dec. 18, 2010). That was my coming out party, I guess you’d say.

STEVE SHOWALTER: Our game plan was to have Fischer stay close to the basket and leave Mader open. We picked our poison, and out of the five guys on the team, Sam Mader was the one guy who stayed open. He hit six or seven threes on us that night, and we were down 10 at half. In the first half, we played like crap.

SAM MADER: This is me being honest. I don’t really remember much about the actual game itself. I think it just went by so fast for me, and I was so happy. I only remember the last few seconds of the game. If I am not mistaken, I think Luke or the other big was sagging off me and forcing me to shoot, and then I did.

MALCOLM BOWERS: We had them scouted to a tee but did not game plan for Sam Mader shooting that many threes. He hadn’t done that all season, so that was tough. At halftime, Showy chewed us out due to our mediocre first half, and we were motivated to get back out there and show what we could do, which sparked our run.

Mongan forces OT

Appleton East led at the break, 32-20. It was back to within 42-36 after the third quarter. Coming out of a timeout taken with 22.2 seconds to go, Josh Mongan hit a 3-pointer in front of his own bench that tied the game at 48 with 10 seconds left. Johnny Coenen’s final shot for East on the other end rimmed out, forcing overtime. Coenen, East's reliable senior guard, finished 1 of 11 in the game shooting with just 2 points.

STEVE SHOWALTER: Everybody in the country expects (Zak) Showalter to get the ball at that point. We ran a play we’d run numerous times, ran a set for Showalter to get the ball at the wing and get a ball screen from Fischer. Showalter has to make the play himself or find Mongan in the corner. Everyone went to Zak, and Mongan found himself wide open, and Zak did what he was supposed to. It was great for us, but we celebrated way too much, which kind of concerned me as a coach. This game is not over, and we’re acting like we won.

JOSH MONGAN: I could feel the floor shake after I made the shot. I was most definitely making sure we got back, because there was time left for them to score. Once the buzzer went off and we knew we were going to overtime, my teammates kind of attacked me. I was like, ‘Guys, we have to go win in overtime now.’

LUKE FISCHER: We always kind of looked to him for clutch shots. We knew he wanted to take those shots. The fact that our point guard was the guy leading the charge and one of our veterans, we were feeling really good at the time.

JOHN MIELKE: We obviously wanted to take away the three, but the player guarding Mongan over-helped, got lost in his recovery, and left Mongan with the open three.

SAM MADER: Germantown was on their heels, and for them to come back and make it close was nerveracking.

ZAK SHOWALTER: Josh is a bulldog ... I think all season, if there was a point guard that was really good for the other team, we weren’t worried in the slightest bit. He was that good of a defender. He’s at Winona State now and always kind of had that part to him. We knew how good he was and were confident in that game because we knew Josh would shut him down.

Final seconds of OT

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Malcolm Bowers skies for a rebound, and Germantown coach Steve Showalter said he was awarded a timeout before referees huddled and reversed the call to out of bounds and Appleton East's ball. East scored the game-winner on the ensuing inbound. Courtesy of NFHS

Germantown held a 50-49 lead in the late going of overtime, but Appleton East’s Trent Schmidt was fouled by Dan Studer with 6.8 seconds to go and sent to the line for a bonus free-throw opportunity. He made the first for his only point of the game. He missed the second.

STEVE SHOWALTER: I always put Zak downcourt so we can fire it down to him and we can attack. He was our best rebounder, and I probably should have put him on the boards on that play, but I left him back. Malcolm gets the rebound, you can see it plain as day on film. He comes down with two hands and just collapses in a mass of people. He falls, and there’s four guys falling under the basket, and it trickles out of bounds. Before the play even started, I had asked the referee as soon as we get the rebound, we’re taking a timeout. In my mind, the play is dead. The whistle blew.

MALCOLM BOWERS: I remember going up for the rebound and securing it, but I think I landed on one foot or a little off balance, so it didn't look like I had possession of the ball.  Then, I remember getting fouled across my wrists, and the ball went out of bounds off of me.

JOSH MONGAN: We thought Malcolm got the rebound, and we got a timeout. They changed the call to jump ball, which became Appleton East’s ball then. I thought we were getting the ball going the other way, but instead we had to turn around and play defense.

STEVE SHOWALTER: They had a meeting about it while we were in our timeout setting up our offensive play. It’s a tie game now, and we have to go the length of the court with 4 seconds to go. In the middle of my timeout, someone’s grabbing me by the shoulder, and I’m slapping his hand away. It was one of my assistants. I’m all ready to go with our final play, and they tell me it’s their ball. Even though the first ref had given us a timeout – he ran over and said, ‘Time out, Germantown.’ We came over set up to run our play, and now we have to come out on defense even though we haven’t gotten to talk about that.

LUKE FISCHER: I think I actually missed the blockout on my guy, and he was able to tip it. I thought either they hit the ball out of bounds or we had the ball, and they pushed our guy out of bounds. We all thought it should still be our ball.

JOHN MIELKE: We wanted to get the ball to Johnny Coenen to clear space and let him create, figuring he had time for at least a two-dribble move and lift fake. We got it to Johnny farther from the rim than ideal. Credit Germantown. Johnny drove middle, pulled up, no lift fake and got a contested shot from the free-throw line. Johnny had made so many clutch shots throughout his career, so the decision to get the ball in his hands was rather simple.

SAM MADER: I ran the play wrong. I think I was supposed to set a screen for him or something, and I did not. Maybe in some way I wanted the ball so I did my own thing. I think I just cut to the hoop, because I saw a lane and thought I was open. Either way, we got the ball where we needed and then the rebound.

CALEB ZEEGERS (East player who hit game-winning shot): Coenen hit the shot the year before (also with 3.8 seconds left), so he was the first option on that play. After I inbounded the ball, everything was just instinct. I’ve always been pretty good at judging the ball in the air, so when I saw it was short, I just tried to get the ball and get it out of my hands as quickly as possible.

ZAK SHOWALTER: I’m thinking there’s no way (Coenen) is going to get a shot off even. I’m watching, hoping the horn goes off as he’s shooting it, and then he gets it off. I turn and I’m waiting, waiting. The ball seems like it’s up in the air forever. Last-second shots always seem like they’re in the air forever. How is this still going on? I’ve played it over multiple times in my head and will never understand it.

JOSH MONGAN: There were a lot of people screaming, so I knew something was going on as I was defending. Time really froze because I saw the ball in the air, and I got excited.

LUKE FISCHER: You always kind a sense in your head of how long 3 seconds should be. We definitely thought after he got the shot up that the horn was going to sound. When it didn’t and we heard the crowd and saw our bench go crazy, we knew something was up.

CALEB ZEEGERS: I remember hearing the horn as the ball was on the backboard, and I just started celebrating. I actually ran to the student section with some teammates after jumping up and down, so I didn’t even consider a (replay) review in the moment. I’ll also take responsibility for the rope being ignored by the students.

ZAK SHOWALTER: I’m sure it would be overturned with the technology we have now. Everything just kind of breaks out on the floor, but it almost goes silent in my head. I’m thinking, ‘Hold up, we’re about to go to state, this is not really happening. This should not happen. There’s no way that could have happened in 4 seconds.’ But the refs quickly got off the court and did their thing where they run away, and there was nothing we could do about it from there.

STEVEN TIETZ (Germantown reporter, Now Newspapers): We on press row were as stunned and confused as everyone else. It just didn't seem right. Way too much time had come off the clock, it seemed. Afterward, as we were quickly posting our stories, a couple of other reporters and myself came upon the video of those final seconds. Another reporter had an early version of an I-Phone, and it had a digital timer on it. As one person ran the video of the game-winning play over and over, it became clear the final shot came at least 1.0 to 1.2 seconds late. It shouldn't have counted.

STEVE SHOWALTER: I walked over to the referees and they turned their back and ran to the far exit. I wasn’t about to, in front of 5,000 people, go chasing the referees down. They should have stayed and explained the situation much better than they did. I saw one or two of them at state tournaments (later) and they still wouldn’t explain the situation to me. The clock operator was being verbally questioned by numerous people, and I wasn’t about to make a scene there. It was, ‘OK, let’s shake hands, and no more excuses, because we didn’t play well in the first half, anyway.’

JOHN MIELKE: After the game, I was doing a radio interview, and multiple Germantown fans walked past the radio guys and myself and let us know what a travesty the victory was. The definitely dampened my feelings. Losing is tough, and I have been on the receiving end of losses because of real or perceived bad late-game calls. This is a tough pill to swallow, and there have been plenty of postgame talks to our players about owning the loss instead of casting blame. Games that are decided on a last-second play or official’s call reflect on a single moment in time out of a 32-minute game. … Did more than 3.8 seconds run off the clock? This is a matter of perspective, as the clock starts when the ref drops their arm to signify the timer to start. Human time to drop the arm, human time to turn the clock on. You, as a coach, know this and explain to your players that they need to play through the buzzer, not through their perception of time.

SAM MADER: I know there was some confusion with the clock and that there was maybe too much time on there. I did not know that until after the game. After the team started celebrating and all that, the refs may have just chalked it up for a win. It’s always hard to go back and review those plays with the technology we have at the game. The instinct was joy and celebration.

CALEB ZEEGERS: I remember smiling for about eight straight hours. I know my enthusiasm wasn’t tempered and I don’t think anyone else’s was, either.

JOSH MONGAN: Obviously, mistakes are going to happen. It always could happen at the Kohl Center, too, but there’s probably less of a chance of it occurring there.

DEB HAUSER: We don’t have the capability to use replay during the pre-tournament series. It takes quite an involved production crew to get all the angles necessary to make a good decision. We can do that at state, where we have multiple cameras each aiming a designated spot at the end of a game.

STEVE SHOWALTER: Whoever was operating the clock happened to not start the clock on time, and it just happened to be an air ball. The kid happened to be standing underneath the basket and laid it in. If it hits the rim whatsoever, we were in good position to get the rebound, too. Obviously, we thought the game was well over by then.

STEVEN TIETZ: Steve Showalter was remarkably diplomatic considering the series of events that led to this defeat. He clearly thought way too much time had gone off, but he wasn't going to use that as an excuse. It was a great display of composure, considering he also had to deal with distraught and emotionally on edge teenagers who had just had their goal of state dashed in a very controversial manner. We all incorporated it in our stories and it is now part of that sad aftermath of the rightfully short-lived Super Tuesday concept.

MALCOLM BOWERS: Not going to deny it. I cried. A lot, actually. The locker room was pretty silent, guys were very upset. After I got myself, I went over to Zak, Josh and Luke and told them I loved them and that no team in the state was going to stop them next season, and I was going to be there to support them every step of the way.

Start of something special

Appleton East went on to fall to De Pere in the state semifinal, but Bowers was right. Germantown won the state title the following year with a 28-0 record and 72-69 win over Milwaukee King in the final. It was more of the same in 2013, with a 57-28 win over Mukwonago in the final. Showalter, Mongan and Fischer never lost another high school game in their careers. Eventually, the program’s 69-game winning streak became acknowledged as a state record, and even after it ended, Germantown added one more state title to the mantle in 2014.

ZAK SHOWALTER: (Assistant coach) Jim Lawinger had a picture in the locker room after the game and he had it as a screen saver on his phone the whole following season. That shows how much we used that game as motivation. He would show us when we weren’t playing well and didn’t want to practice sometimes. He would show us just to give us that brief memory.

JOSH MONGAN: I didn’t sign with Winona State until April (of senior year), after we won state. Senior year was definitely an audition for me to see if I could get a scholarship to play somewhere. But if we ever needed a little extra motivation, all you had to do was say ‘Appleton East.’

STEVE SHOWALTER: I think the fact that our boys came back on Saturday morning, all in the gym playing their rear ends off for next year already, that definitely was a turning point for our program and got us ready for the next 69 games in a row that we won and three state championships. A lot of it was because of that chip on our shoulder. Heck, we could have gone to state and won and it would have been five state championship games in a row (counting a loss to Stevens Point in 2015) had it not been for one bad play. Then again, it might have changed the way we approached the next few years, too.

LUKE FISCHER: It’s a huge source of pride, to be the winningest team in the state for those couple years. I hope it’ll last for a long time. In the future, someone will be talking about basketball things and I’ll be able to say I was a part of that.

MALCOLM BOWERS: It was a tough end to my senior season, but I was very happy to be part of a program that had a great amount of success. Less than 20 losses in my high-school career isn’t half bad until you compare it to the other guys from Germantown with 10 or less. I talk about it sometimes with people but as soon as they bring it up, I go on a huge rant about it and they just look at me like, ‘Why did I bring it up?’

JOSH MONGAN: Part of the reason (the WIAA did away with Super Tuesday) is probably because of what happened, but at the same time, they were experimenting, trying to figure out what works best in the new format.

JOHN MIELKE: I have people to this day who want to sit down and discuss the game. People tell me what a pleasure it was to watch two great teams play a game that had so many twists and turns. Germantown went on to have so much success, which from an East perspective, makes the accomplishment even more memorable.

Opinion from the archive: Now that we've acclimated to five divisions, let's bring back Super Tuesday | Super Tuesday the wrong construct

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