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Germantown boys earn historic third straight title

Germantown's Lamonte Bearden stalls during the fourth period of the Division 1 championship game March 15. Germantown won, 48-42.

Germantown's Lamonte Bearden stalls during the fourth period of the Division 1 championship game March 15. Germantown won, 48-42. Photo By Peter Zuzga

March 17, 2014

He was clutching the trophy close to his chest, this sharp-shooting two guard, this veteran of three WIAA state basketball championships.

Because this trophy meant the most of all of them, because after all those days of being in the background, he and his friends were out front, the seniors. They were the ones in command.

But when approached about his thoughts on that situation, he quietly said: "No, it was never easy."

Then again, nothing worth having is ever easily earned, and Germantown senior guard Jake Showalter and his friends, his teammates, "his brothers" as he called them, worked for every bit of history they earned Saturday.

And they will be remembered well in history as they joined the elite and small fraternity of three-time WIAA state hoops champions with a gritty 48-42 decision over Neenah at the Kohl Center in Madison.

"It's hard to take it all in," he said. "I never even dreamed that we'd be here three years in a row, but we all knew the objective and what we had to do, and it's just so great to go out with a bang with my brothers, my (hoops) family."

Family pride

His "family" also included his dad, the hard-charging perfectionist coach Steve Showalter. The two had a moment just shortly after the final whistle sounded.

Jake had hit two free throws with eight seconds remaining to put the Warhawks up by their final margin, and this beleaguered team, which rode a roller-coaster of emotion, good and bad, all season, could finally celebrate.

"Right after, Dad found me and hugged me, and said over and over how proud of me he was," Jake said with a smile on his face.

Steve was proud of him and the rest of Jake's "brothers," because on this night, the Warhawks (26-2) were held 32 points below their season average yet came out on top against a tall and physical Neenah squad (26-2).

"Just an incredible, incredible effort," Steve said. "I look at the stat sheet, and I'm looking at the points. We had only two guys in double figures, and we scored only 48 points after averaging 80. I never would have thought that we'd come out on top in a battle like that."

Hard-fought battle

With it, Germantown is now only one of seven teams in the 99-year history of the boys state basketball tournament to win three titles in a row.

And as mentioned by son Jake, nothing came easy.

After falling behind by seven to Germantown at the half, the Neenah Rockets got stingy and went on an 8-2 run midway through the third quarter to tie the score at 32-all with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left in the period.

A drive by point guard Lamonte Bearden put Germantown ahead with 1:10 left in the period, and as they had been wont to do throughout the game, the Rockets decided to run some clock and play for the last shot.

Only they didn't use enough of the clock.

They ran off more than 45 seconds, but the shot went up with about seven seconds left. Post Evan Wesenberg, who along with fellow senior big man Jon Averkamp worked hard all night trying to keep the Rockets' 6-10 junior big man Matt Heldt at bay, blocked it.

The ball went into Bearden's hands, who quickly shot it forward to the wide open Jake Showalter. With the seconds running down on the quarter, Jake, the veteran of many basketball wars, calmly dribbled and sank a clutch layup just before the buzzer to give Germantown a 4-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

"I thought Jake would stop and shoot the 3," Steve said. "Instead, he got the layup. That was a huge momentum boost for us. Then after that, it just became a grind."

A sweaty, physical, take-no-prisoners sort of grind.

The Germantown defense did its job and then some as it held the Rockets scoreless for the first 6:09 of the final session. But when Heldt (11 points and nine rebounds) finally sank a shot with 1:51 left, it was still only 40-34 Germantown.

"We were working, trying to find plays to get us baskets, and we weren't getting any," Steve Showalter said. "Actually, it was a credit to both teams (defensively). But even when we weren't scoring, we did a great job getting stops."

Except in that final minute, when stops became hard to get.

And when Neenah guard Trevor Entwisle banked in the second of his two 3s in the last minute with 17 seconds to go, it was suddenly a one-possession game at 45-42.

Bearden, who finish with 13 points, three assists and three steals, then hit one of two free throws to make it a two-possession game with 16 seconds remaining at 46-42.

But the drama was far from over.

The Rockets worked it back into the hands of Entwisle who got a quick, running start to the wing. He launched another 3 attempt with a hand in his face. It went in, and there was a whistle.

Foul and a potential game-tying 4-point play? Or something else?

Something else, as it turned out. It was a traveling call, and the Neenah side rained "boos" on the officials.

"I'm thinking it's a foul, and he (Entwisle) has a chance to tie the game," Steve Showalter said. "I really thought it was a travel though, but you never know if it would get called. The right call was made, and I went from heartache to jubilation in a moment."

Seconds later, Jake Showalter sank his two free throws.

Long road traveled

It has been a long and complicated journey for this team, good wins and bad publicity, rare losses and a loss of swagger, but as coach Showalter has said over and over these past few weeks, this group has really grown as a family, and as a team.

His players concurred.

"It's a bittersweet way to end this all, but there's no better way to do it than with a championship," said Wesenberg, who finished with 6 points and nine rebounds. "I was talking with Jake and with Jon (Averkamp) about how many games we've played together since about fifth grade.

"Maybe a 1,000. That includes AAU, high school, summer league, even church league (laughs). It's definitely bittersweet, but I'm so happy we've earned the third title."

"It takes a lot to win three titles in a row," Bearden said. "We tried to go into this game not even thinking about the title, just going out there and having fun. Coach tells no one plays better than us (when we're having fun)."

Other major contributors included Bearden's half-brother, Brian Bearden, who also had 13 points on nine of 11 foul shooting and five key rebounds.

"He was a warrior out there," coach Showalter said.

There also was the battered but proud Averkamp, who took most of the hits from the physical Heldt and also scored 6 points with nine rebounds.

"A few bruises," Averkamp chuckled, "but in the end, the work was all worth it."

Lessons learned

It bought the Warhawks a place in history. It was 14 years in the making and coach Showalter still can't believe how far the program has come and how well it is regarded in many knowledgeable circles.

"As one of the best ever, some say the best ever (in state history)," he said. "Just look at these guys — 106-4 over the last three years. That's unmatched; that's unheard of. I never dreamed when I started here that people would one day talk about us as one of the best ever."

Then, remembering the checkered memory of this just completed season, marked with player suspensions, coach Showalter did a rare thing and quoted a Bible verse.

"As it's said in John 8:7, "Whoever is without sin, cast the first stone,'" he said, "and we're not going to cast the first stone."

No, these Warhawks aren't casting any stones.

They're going home champions and pondering a place in history.

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