Germantown boys basketball coach Steve Showalter says his high-octane 80-plus point a game team doesn't get enough credit for the defense that it plays.
Well, with all-stater Zak Showalter on the bench with foul trouble for all but two-plus minutes of the first half, the Warhawks got a chance to show their defensive chops Thursday in their 64-38 WIAA sectional semifinal victory over Sussex Hamilton.
"I thought our defense was incredible," said Steve Showalter. "I thought we did a great job on (Brady) Ellingson (the Charger forward who had averaged 29 ppg in two regional wins the previous week) and I thought we did a pretty good job of forcing them to play at our pace."
With the win, the top-ranked in state Warhawks (25-0) set a new school record for victories in a season, breaking the mark of 24 they set last year, and earned a rematch with fourth-ranked De Pere (24-1) in the sectional final at Manitowoc on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Germantown beat the Redbirds in the WBBY Tournament back in December, 60-49. De Pere advanced with a 55-43 win over Sheboygan North Thursday night.
"De Pere will be the first thing we'll talk about when we get into the lockerroom," said Zak Showalter.
Not that the Warhawks didn't keep the underdog Chargers (13-12) fully in mind Thursday night.
Determined to slow down the game, take long possessions and make the Warhawks work on defense, Hamilton tried to limit the number of possessions the Warhawks got.
It was a matter of survival, said Chargers coach Andy Cerroni.
"They want to have 80 possessions a game," he said of the Warhawks. "When you do that, you can afford to take some bad shots."
Germantown didn't take many bad shots in the first quarter, breaking out to a 5-0 lead and then holding the Chargers to just four points, in accumulating a 16-4 advantage at the end of the period.
But Zak Showalter had to leave at the 5:27 mark of the first quarter and would not come back until the start of the second half.
"With us, you usually have to sit the half when that happens," he said. "...I hated watching the game from the bench. It's so much more nerve-wracking just sitting there doing that. I remember watching some of Dad's games as a kid and it was the same way for me back then too."
And the Chargers took advantage of the situation in the second quarter, flashing some defensive chops of their own, holding the Warhawks scoreless for the last 5:04 of the second quarter, and outscoring them 10-0 in the process.
When Ellingson (12 points) completed a three-point play with 15 seconds left, the Chargers had cut the deficit to a competitive 24-16.
"Before we took the floor, I told them that we deserve to be in this game and let's go play like we do," said Cerroni. "We missed some lay-ups and other close shots early but we came back and played a pretty good second quarter."
Hamilton had the ball first in the third quarter with a chance to get to within five on a three-pointer, but instead a turnover led to an easy lay-up for 6-11 Germantown center Luke Fischer (20 points) on an assist from Zak Showalter.
Germantown tried to run away and hide again, stretching the lead to 38-22 on a spectacular two-handed jam by Zak Showalter on a missed three-pointer with 2:27 left in the third.
But Hamilton hit three, three-pointers within 1:13, including two from senior guard Nick Patterson (team-high 13 points) and the margin was still a managable 43-32 going into the fourth.
"They were bombing in those shots," said Steve Showalter. "If they were missing those, we could have stayed in our zone and been home-free and lived happily ever after."
That fairy-tale ending had to wait until the fourth quarter, as the Warhawks finally exerted their will in a big way.
After Hamilton's Austin Kendziorski hit a three-pointer to make it 45-35 with 7:04 left, the Warhawks put their turnover-and-point-producing machine into high gear.
They went on a 15-0 run over the next 4:44 that when it finished on a back-cut lay-up by point guard Josh Mongan (10), left the Warhawks with a bench-clearing, 60-35 lead with 2:28 left.
Zak Showalter had four points and two assists in the outburst, including a dunk and a sensational blind pass assist to forward Dan Studer (13 points). He finished with 15 points, 12 of them in the second half.
Germantown hit 10 of 11 shots in the fourth.
"The start of the second half, we had to start like it was 0-0, then we were able to get that big lead we usually get in the first half," Zak said. '"We just played much better in the second half."
"There was a chance we could have cut it to seven but Brady (Ellingson) missed a good-looking three and that was just huge," said Cerroni. "...Overall, we just needed to take care of the ball a little better and finish our chances when we had them."
"We also just lost a little patience there at the end. It was disappointing. We withstood them for awhile, but you have to play a nearly perfect game to beat them."
Steve Showalter was happy to see other people step up when needed.
"I think good things would have happened for us a lot earlier for us, if he (Zak) didn't have to come out of the game," he said, "but I thought Luke (Fischer) dominated the game. I'm sure glad he's on our team. He's just about unstoppable when he's motivated."
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