Hawks assume control
AHS boys gain share of league title
The best decision of the night didn't come from Arrowhead boys basketball coach Craig Haase of any of his players. The best decision on this night came from Haase's assistant coaches Jim LaVoi and John Hoch.
With visiting Mukwonago holding on to a precarious 47-46 lead with just over three minutes left in the game, senior Kyle Keranen was sitting on the bench after scoring just three points in the game's first 29 minutes.
But despite struggling with his shot, Hoch and LaVoi convinced Haase to get Keranen back into the game. And that turned out to be the best move of the night as Keranen scored eight of his team's final 10 points in the final 2:51 to turn that one point deficit into an eventual 56-51 Classic 8 Conference victory.
"I trust all of my assistants, and sure enough, as soon as he goes in, he hits a three to put us up and we went on to win the game," Haase said. "That's the trust I have in my assistants and the trust we have in each other. That was a great call by my assistants. I wish I could take the credit, but this one belongs to those guys."
The victory, before the largest crowd of the season, was monstrous for the 14th-ranked Warhawks. It not only moved them to 18-3 on the season but also vaulted them into sole possession of first place on the league standings with just one game left. Arrowhead is now 12-1 in league play and will close out the conference season Friday with a game against Waukesha West (13-8, 8-5). Mukwonago, ranked 12th in this week's state AP poll, is second at 11-2.
The win guarantees the Warhawks a share of the conference championship. They can win the outright crown with a victory at West. The crown is the third Classic 8 title for AHS in the last five years.
"This was a great atmosphere tonight and a big chance for us to clinch a share of the conference championship," Haase said. "But now we have to go to West and try and win the outright title. West has a very good team. We're going to have to another good game on Friday."
Warhawks start slow
Besides the substituting of Keranen at the end of the game, a big key for the Warhawks was that they survived some ice-cold shooting in the first half to stay in the game. Arrowhead trailed at the intermission by just one at 20-19 despite making just 7 of 33 shots (21 percent). At one stretch, the Warhawks missed 16 shots in a row.
"It was frustrating at the start because we couldn't make anything," said senior guard Dom Todarello. "But we didn't get down. We knew our defense would keep us in the game. Our defense has been good all season. We always know we can rely on that. But then we finally made some shots in the second half. It was a tough game and we knew that coming in."
Arrowhead's shooting improved dramatically in the final two periods. The Hawks shot 50 percent in the second half, making 11 of 22 shots.
While Mukwonago built up the biggest lead of the game in the third quarter at 27-21, Arrowhead rallied back to tie the game at 36 going into the fourth quarter.
The game bounced back and forth in the final period and Mukwonago grabbed its final lead at 47-46 when Aaron Nixon made a pair of free throws with 3:00 to go.
But that's when Keranen entered the game and the momentum quickly changed.
The 6-foot-1 guard quickly made his presence known, making two free throws with 2:51 to play to put the Warhawks up 48-47. Mukwonago tied the game 28 seconds later.
Keranen then delivered a dagger to Mukwonago when he buried a long 3-popinter from the left wing with 1:49 remaining to put Arrowhead up 51-48. Keranen and Kenny Finco then scored the next five points by making 5 of 6 free throws in a span of 34 seconds.
"I'm just glad the coaching staff had the confidence to put me back in at the end," Keranen said. "I think it was Jackson (Abresch) that made a good skip pass to me and I was able to knock the shot down. We knew it was going to be a tough game. They're bigger and stronger than us but we did some good things to offset that and that got us the win."
Arrowhead had a bunch of kids make big plays. Besides Keranen, Kenny Finco finished with a team-best 14 points. Abresch, DJ Escamilla and Brandon Kim also hit some big hoops.
"Kyle came up big for us at the end, but I thought Brandon Kim gave us some big minutes and DJ Escamilla hit two big 3-pointers for us," Haase said. "Jackson Abresch also played well. This was a big win for us. Now we have to finish it on Friday."
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