WATERTOWN — If there were any doubts whether the Central boys basketball team was going to win a WIAA Division-2 sectional title Saturday afternoon and advance to the State Tournament for the second time in program history, the Falcons put those to bed quickly at the end of the first half.
And what a flurry it was.
With three consecutive steals that led straight to baskets, including an electrifying pull-up 3-pointer from the deep left wing by senior guard Jack Rose at the halftime buzzer that sent the Central student section into pandemonium, the top-seeded Falcons opened up a 17-point halftime lead on their way to a 79-48 blowout victory over second-seeded Oregon in a sectional final at Watertown.
Including the seven quick points in the final minute of the first half, the Falcons went on a game-sealing run of 23-0 over the first and second halves that turned a slim 21-20 lead into a 24-point chasm at 44-20, as the Central fans could start making their plans for Madison well before the final buzzer Saturday.
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The Falcons have now won 16 consecutive games to improve to 25-2 and will head to the Kohl Center for the State Tournament for the second time ever and the first time since 2018. Central will play in the semifinals on Friday, with the Division-2 state title game scheduled for next week Saturday at 6:35 p.m.
State Tournament teams are scheduled to be seeded, one through four in each division, on Sunday.
Playing in Madison for a state title will be the culmination of the standout high school career of Rose, who earlier this season became the program’s all-time leading scorer, along with senior point guard Devin Griffin and senior forward Kenny Garth, all three-year varsity starters for the Falcons.
They saw their season end in the regional finals each of the last two seasons but broke through this season with a regional title and now a sectional title and a trip to the State Tournament.
“With these guys, it’s everything, especially after losing in regionals the past two years,” Griffin said. “… We put in a lot of work every day, and we have a lot of fun. This team’s really gelled well together, so to win it with this team and everything just means a lot to us.”
Central coach James Hyllberg, meanwhile, keeps adding to his resume in what’s already been a legendary career with the Falcons.
Prior to Hyllberg’s arrival for the 2015-16 season, the Central boys program hadn’t won 20 games in a season since 1962. In sevens seasons under Hyllberg, the Falcons have now reeled off four 20-win seasons, six Southern Lakes Conference titles, four regional titles and now two sectional titles.
Central has won its four postseason games so far this year in dominant fashion, too, defeating Delavan-Darien and Waukesha West by 21 and 10 points in regionals and Milton and Oregon by 20 and 31 points in sectionals.
“These guys stepped up,” Hyllberg said Saturday as the Falcons cut down the net inside the Watertown gymnasium. “They came ready to play. I didn’t sense any nerves. They were a confident bunch. I thought we matched up well with their guards.
“We came out ready with confident guys with a lot of passion, determined, (a) will to win. Couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Oregon, which finished its season at 23-5 after rallying from a 17-point deficit to beat top-seeded DeForest in a sectional semifinal Thursday night, hung around early Saturday via the 3-point line. The Panthers went 6-of-14 from beyond the arc in the first half, pulling to within 21-20 with a little over 4 minutes left on a triple from the left corner by junior guard Evan Miles.
But that’s when Central went on its big run, as the Falcons used their switching 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone defenses to wreak complete havoc on Oregon’s offense, forcing 11 first-half turnovers, many leading to easy buckets on the other end.
After Rose’s buzzer-beating 3 ignited the crowd and sent the Falcons into halftime with a 37-20 lead, all that was really left was to play out the second half, and Central just kept building its massive lead.
Despite being guarded pretty well by lengthy 6-foot-3 Oregon senior Deaken Bush, Rose finished with a game-high 19 points, along with five rebounds. Griffin, the pass-first senior point guard, continued his scoring ways of late with 18 points, including 12 in the first half, to go with five assists.
Garth, meanwhile, scored nine of his 10 points in the game’s first 8 minutes and also added three assists, junior forward Wyatt Anderson scored nine of his 11 points in the second half and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds and reserve junior guard Alex Sippy had a big second half, scoring nine of his 11 points for the game after halftime to help the Falcons build their lead.
Hyllberg and his players said they’d enjoy Saturday’s win for a night, maybe for the rest of the weekend, but just reaching the State Tournament was not the ultimate goal this season.
Now, the Falcons will set their sights set on winning the first state title in program history and the second this academic year for the Central athletic program after the girls golf team won the Division-1 state title this fall.
Additionally, Rose was on the boys volleyball team that notched a Division-1 state runner-up finish this fall.
“It feels great,” said Rose, with the sectional title plaque in his arms and the net dangling around his neck. “We’ve been working for this for three years now. So just finally executing, getting here and getting the big ‘dub’ (win), it feels great.
“But we’re not done yet.”
WIAA DIVISION-2 SECTIONAL FINAL
Panzer 4 0-0 11, Schoenecker 3 3-6 11, Miles 2 1-4 7, Bush 2 1-2 6, Bra. Kerns 2 0-2 5, Patterson 1 2-2 5, Kessenich 1 0-0 3, Brockman 0 0-0 0, Rulseh 0 0-0 0, Weink 0 0-0 0, Bry. Kerns 0 0-0 0, McCorkle 0 0-0 0, Gates 0 0-0 0, Kreckman 0 0-0 0, Mihm 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 7-16 48.
Rose 7 3-4 19, Garth 4 1-2 10, D. Griffin 7 2-2 18, Sippy 4 3-5 11, Anderson 4 3-4 11, Mulhollon 1 0-0 2, Simmons 1 0-0 2, Witt 0 2-4 2, E. Griffin 2 0-0 4, Kinzler 0 0-0 0, Smothers 0 0-0 0, Lubkeman 0 0-0 0, Wegel 0 0-0 0, Meininger 0 0-0 0. Totals 30 14-21 79.
Halftime—Central 37-20. 3-point goals—Oregon 11 (Panzer 3, Schoenecker 2, Miles 2, Bush, Bra. Kerns, Patterson, Kessenich), Central 5 (Rose 2, D. Griffin 2, Garth). Rebounds—Oregon 25 (Panzer 4, Schoenecker 4), Central 39 (Anderson 7). Assists—Oregon 11 (Brockman 3), Central 10 (D. Griffin 5). Total fouls—Oregon 16, Central 15. Fouled out—Schoenecker.
IN PHOTOS: The Central boys basketball team’s run to the WIAA Division-2 sectional finals