During his halcyon state-championship days at Germantown, first-year Menomonee Falls boys basketball coach Steve Showalter got used to having the likes of 6-8 Ben Averkamp and 6-11 Luke Fischer around to guard the basket and get some easy hoops inside. Other teams envied the Warhawks height.
Showalter and his Falls bunch were caught on the other side of that equation March 9 in a WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal as top-seeded Kimberly was bigger than the feisty and fast Indians at almost every position and exploited that advantage in almost every way possible.
The Papermakers used a quick 7-0 burst at the end of the first half to take a 45-40 lead at the break and then went on a 17-6 run in the middle of the second half, a time in which the Indians went without a field goal for over 8 minutes, to pull away for an 84-64 victory.
"They were simply better," said Showalter, "and we had the game at our pace (fast). If not, I think it would have been a lot uglier. They imposed their will inside all night while we couldn't get a single thing going inside. ... But that will happen when you have to play all guards."
The Indians saw their fine season end at 17-8, while Kimberly (21-4) moved onto a WIAA sectional final at Sheboygan North on Saturday, March 11 against third-seeded Arrowhead, which beat Bay Port in its sectional semi. The winner will advance to the WIAA state tournament in Madison, March 16-18.
Kimberly's advantage was noticeable right from the start, as the Papermakers started 6-8, 6-2, 6-5, 6-3, and 6-4, while the Indians went with 5-11, 5-11, 6-0, 6-4, and 6-5.
That advantage led to numerous offensive rebounds and second chance points for Kimberly.
"We were scrambling all night trying to keep them from attacking the inside, but then they'd make a pass, someone would always catch it, and then they'd lay it right in," said Showalter.
Falls fell behind in the first at 32-24 with 4:35 left, but then the Indians went on a 16-6 run to take three separate small leads, the last of which came on a Cross Wilson 3-pointer with 1:01 left to make it 40-38. Wilson's triple was the last of seven treys the Indians hit in the first half.
But Papermakers 6-8 center Will Chevalier, who benefited from the Indians' 6-5 senior center Matt Henningsen being forced to sit much of the final 8 minutes due to two fouls, hit a trey of his own to give Kimberly the lead for good at 41-40 with 39 seconds left.
Showalter then tried to get his team to play for one shot, but in the din at the Manitowoc Fieldhouse, he could not be heard. After a missed shot, Kimberly 6-4 sophomore guard Levi Nienhaus-Bochert hit a lay-up with 5 seconds left to make it 43-39. Compounding the problem, senior Kimberly guard Danny Vanden Boom stole the ball with 1.6 seconds left and was fouled. He hit both free throws to make it 45-40 going into the break.
Momentum was gone for Falls.
"I called for one shot, and I meant one shot," said Showalter. "We don't need to jack up a 3 with about 20 seconds to go in that situation. But because we're playing with halves now, we just don't practice end of half, end of game situations as much as we used to. I was shouting instructions, but they couldn't hear me."
Still, the Indians weren't quite done. Wilson and Jaden Champion hit triples close apart early in the second half to close the gap to 49-46 with 15:53 left. But Champion's hit would be the last basket from the field for Falls until the 7:27 mark, as the Indians missed nine shots in a row and had some critical turnovers which the Papermakers turned into points.
When Wilson finally hit a jumper at the 7:27 mark, it was 66-52, Kimberly, and Falls could never get inside of 9 the rest of the way. Kimberly salted the game away with 13 of 16 second-half free-throw shooting. Falls shot only seven of 28 shots in the second half.
"We couldn't score underneath, and we couldn't keep them from scoring underneath," said Showalter, "but that has been a problem all year. We hustled and ran enough, but I think we may have tired ourselves out (trying to keep up)."
Nienhaus-Bochert tortured the Indians all night, finishing with 21 points on 10 of 11 shooting, many of them lay-ups, and 16 rebounds. Junior guard Alec Rosner also had 21 for Kimberly. Falls was led by junior guard Nate Schuster and the senior Wilson with 16 points apiece, while Champion had 14. Wilson and Champion hit four 3-pointers each.
"We had a couple of guys play really well, Cross (Wilson) played well, and Jaden (Champion), too, but we needed everyone to play well to beat a team as good as this," he said. "They were just better. We should have probably gotten beaten by more, but like we have all season, we busted our butts every second."