Germantown's title is love's labor finally won
Warhawks boys make basketball history with 28-0 finish
Germantown - Father and son, the latter sitting in the other's lap, 15-16 years ago in Madison, watching a WIAA state basketball tournament, wondering how it was all done.
How do you win a state championship?
If you're coach Steve Showalter and his senior all-state son, Zak, of the new Division 1 state champion Germantown boys team, you begin with "bricks and mortar," building it piece by piece from the time the former took the Warhawks job 12 years ago, to this particular warm, endlessly happy Saturday night in Madison.
To a moment when both got to enjoy the fruits of many labors past with a bloodied warrior's shield worth of effort in a 72-69 state championship win over second-ranked Milwaukee King (24-2) at the Kohl Center.
"I really hope that morning never comes," said Steve Showalter, when asked what he would do the next day. "Without crying, this is the greatest basketball moment in my life. The most amazing thing ever, and to share it with my eldest son (Zak) and both my sons (sophomore Jake included) is an incredible feeling. All the guys on this team are my boys and I treat them all alike.
"It's just been a magical ride, so good, that I can't imagine any father having a more enjoyable time than we've had together doing this."
"This is unbelievable," Zak Showalter said. "The best feeling in my life. So many practices since fifth grade. So much sweat, so much blood that all 15 of us put into this. Just the most remarkable thing in my life."
The first thing Zak said to the father after the game: "I love you."
The first thing Steve said to his son after the game: "I love you."
Those two would have probably said the same things to each other even if they had lost, but this was a happy ending that was polished, enameled and burnished under white-hot conditions.
In short, it was a love well-earned regardless of outcome.
Tough games along the way
First, came the battleground of Manitowoc on March 10, where the Warhawks beat fourth-ranked De Pere in a football-game physical sectional final.
Then came the intense media glare of the state semifinal on Friday against third-ranked, defending state champion and hometown favorite Madison Memorial, which Germantown demolished in statement-making fashion, 81-43.
And then came the championship game Saturday against second-ranked state hoops royalty King, a small, intensely talented, pride-filled and deep team that was to be the final defining moment for the 28-0 history-making Warhawks.
Moments after senior point guard Josh Mongan hit two free throws with 6.9 seconds remaining to make it 72-69 Germantown, the Generals came down in a rush and launched two 3-pointers, one from the left and another from the right, the latter of which caught iron and fell off.
"I thought it was going to be like the Appleton East game (the stunning super sectional loss of a year ago)," said Zak. "I said 'No, it can't happen like that again. We've earned this!' "
Zak's night of work included 22 points, including 15-of-18 free throws, many of them coming in a fourth quarter when the Warhawks would push the lead to five and six on a couple of occasions but would never feel truly comfortable until the final buzzer.
Mongan plays whole game
Mongan himself would also have four assists and one steal on the night.
All told, Germantown would hit 15-of-16 free throws in the fourth quarter and 29-of-37 for the game (as compared to five of 10 for King), but shot only one of seven from the field in the stanza, a critical 3-pointer from Mongan that broke a tie at 54 with 6:22 left.
Germantown would never trail again as Mongan's night of trial working against the relentless King press ended with nine points, three assists and one steal. He never came off the floor.
"I kept thinking that the buzzer would go off, but it didn't," junior center Luke Fischer said. "I thought the six seconds were up a long time ago, but when I saw that last shot go up my heart skipped a beat. Then it missed."
Fischer would work hard, too, finishing with 19 points, five rebounds and two blocks. He had to redouble his efforts early, as Zak Showalter had to sit much of the first half with two fouls.
"I knew that we could ride him home if we had to," Steve Showalter said of the Indiana-bound Fischer.
A battle bringing the ball up
It was, as Steve Showalter said, "a war all night," as King came with its trademark full-court pressure, the likes of which the high-intensity Warhawks had never seen this season.
"We made several adjustments, we tried different things," Steve Showalter said. "We tried to use Luke (and his 6-11 height) as an advantage, and they really didn't have an answer for him.
"I told the guys 'don't make me go up there (to the Kohl Center press table) and explain that we weren't ready for that pressure," but it was a battle every trip up the floor. It was a war just to get the ball over halfcourt. … I asked my coaches afterwards, 'Is this what it must be like to play us?' "
The answer was "yes."
Germantown, which trailed by as many as seven in the first half, finished with 20 turnovers, seven more than King and well above its season average.
Building tradition brick by brick
But all those little mistakes were forgotten as the Warhawks' hard work found its reward.
And again, Steve Showalter visited that moment all those years ago, when Zak sat on his lap, before the boy was big enough to get a seat of his own at the field house.
And the father wondered how he could do this, how he could make this all work? How he could create a tradition where there had been none before, give pride and honor and victories to a program where little of that had existed before?
"I sat there (at state) and watched teams do this over and over again," he said. "How does this work? I realized that playing was the easy part. I've done that myself, but to get a group of 15 kids and to get them to do all the right things, to get them to go to school and get to bed at night on time every day (is just very hard).
"Yes, playing was the easy part, they'll realize that someday. We had to start from the ground up, brick by brick. A lot of work went into it."
Something this senior son understands.
"I've never been around a group this amazing," Zak said. "A group as amazing and cool off the court as they were on the court. ... What we've done together and the bonds that we've built, I'll remember for the rest of my life."
And well past the morning.
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