It was appropriate that Menomonee Falls stunned Fond du Lac, 69-68, on Cross Wilson's 3-pointer on the buzzer, because it was the 5-foot, 11 inch senior guard who kept the Indians in the game in the second half just when it looked like the Cardinals were pulling away.
Fond du Lac's leading scorer Luke Loewe's jumper with 4.3 seconds left gave the Cardinals a 68-66 lead, and Falls coach Steve Showalter called time out with 3.2 seconds on the clock.
"We were looking to get the ball long to (Matt) Henningsen under the basket," the veteran coach said. "He wasn't open. The next option was the point guard in the middle of the floor, (Justin) Gruber. I thought Gruber was going to shoot it, but he made a great decision to throw it to the open guy."
Wilson was open on the left side, at least 25 feet out on the elbow. He didn't hesitate and swished the 3-pointer and brought down the house.
"Cross happened to be open, and he made the shot," Showalter said. "I don't know how he ended up on that side. He was supposed to be on the other side, but we'll take it."
Wilson, like his teammates were emotionally drained afterward and talked about perhaps the biggest shot of his career.
"I saw the ball, got the ball, shot the ball and it went in, simple as that," he said. "Yeah, I knew it was in."
The Indians were due for a last-minute win, according to Showalter.
"We've been in so many close ones. We've lost every close one we've had," he said. "We've had shots at the buzzer in at least five of our seven losses, and we've probably made one. We've lost seven games by a total of 22 points, and we had shots at the end of every game to either tie or win. So it's nice to see one go throw the hoop."
The fourth-seeded Indians (17-7) now play top-seeded Kimberly (20-4) in a WIAA sectional semifinal at Manitowoc Lincoln at 7 p.m. Thursday., March 9. The winner of that game will face the winner of Arrowhead and Bay Port for a berth in the state tournament in a 7 p.m. WIAA sectional final at Sheboygan North on Saturday, March 11.
Falls trailed at halftime of the regional final played before a packed house, 33-24, but got back in the game at 39-37 with 14:27, only to see the Cardinals go on a 10-3 run.
Enter Wilson, whose 3-pointer accounted for the only Indians points in that run.
Wilson nailed two 3-pointers and brought Falls to within 53-48. Nate Schuster's rebound basket and two free throws from Gruber, followed by three straight baskets from freshman Trevon Williams, tied the game at 58 with 5:21 to play.
Fond du Lac took a 62-58 lead, but Gruber sank two 3-pointers around two free throws by Loewe to tie the game at 64 with 2:22 on the clock.
Loewe scored on a drive, was fouled, but missed the free throw. After Falls missed two free throws, Schuster scored on a drive with 34.5 seconds left to make it 66-66, setting up the final heroics.
"We had to trap to get the ball out of Loewe's hands," Showalter said about the comeback. "We don't have anyone to match up with him. He's such a great player. We started trapping him to get him to pass to anybody else. That's how we made our run here and there, because he wasn't able to make all the plays then."
"That's how we play," Wilson said afterward. "We never give up. If we're down by 50, we're never going to give up. We're going to come back in every game."
Falls 98, Waukesha West 82
In the March 3 regional semifinal, Gruber scored 30 points and Jaden Champion posted 15 as Falls pulled away despite a close 36-34 lead at halftime. Chris Bready had 31 points for West (9-14).