MENOMONIE — Wisconsin Dells coach Brad Rohling put it best when he said basketball is a game of runs, and the Chiefs just didn’t have a final one in them during Saturday’s WIAA Division 3 boys basketball sectional final against Prescott.
After digging out of an 11-point halftime hole, Wisconsin Dells was unable to overcome another deficit late, suffering an 86-76 loss to the Cardinals at Menomonie High School.
Down 43-32 at the break, the Chiefs (24-2) bounced back to start the second half, erasing the entire deficit with an 11-0 run. Sophomore Brett Hirst, who had a team-high 30 points, and sophomore Bryson each hit a pair of free throws, senior Alex Weiss scored on putback and senior Tanner Brandt hit two buckets, including a 3-pointer from the right wing, to tie things at 43 with 15 minutes remaining.
“We talked about trying to get it down to five at the 15 minute mark, and we did that,” Rohling said. “Our kids, the resiliency they showed to come out in the second half and end up taking the lead after being down against their guard play, which are really good, we’re proud of their effort.”
The teams traded punches from there, racking up 12 lead changes and two ties, the last coming with 6:15 left when Brandt, who added 29 points, scored on a layup to make it 61-all. The Cardinals (24-2) seized the lead quickly after, however, countering with an 8-0 run over the next 65 seconds.
A mid-range jumper by Prescott senior Peter Brookshaw, who poured in a game-high 34 points, gave the Cardinals a 63-61 lead. The Chiefs came up empty on their next two possessions and Prescott cashed in both times on back-to-back 3-pointers by Brookshaw and senior Joe Roosen to push the lead to 69-61 with 5:10 remaining.
“We didn’t do it through hitting 3s; we did it through hard work on defense and pounding the ball into Tanner when he was getting held and mugged,” Rohling said of the lead-changing stretch. “I think it took a little energy out of us when they got that 8-0 run.”
GALLERY: Wisconsin Dells boys basketball vs. Prescott, Division 3 sectional final
Photos of the Wisconsin Dells boys basketball team taking on Prescott in a Division 3 sectional final on Saturday, March 10 at Menomonie High School. The Chiefs, making their first sectional final appearance since 2013, fell short of qualifying state for the first time since 2007, losing to the Cardinals, 86-76.
The Chiefs got within five at 69-64 on a corner 3-pointer by Brandt. Brookshaw responded with a mid-range jumper for the Cardinals, who extended to lead back to 11 at 75-64 with just under 3 minutes remaining.
With time winding down, things got even more difficult for the Chiefs as Brandt, the team’s leading scorer, fouled out with 2:44 left. Wisconsin Dells started to mount another comeback, cutting the lead to four at 80-76 on a putback by Hirst with 55 seconds to go.
The sophomore fouled out 11 seconds later, however, and the Cardinals iced the game at the free throw line as the Chiefs’ last-second shots went awry.
“In my mind, they just made the last run,” Rohling said. “They made the last one with about 5 minutes to go and it’s harder to make another run back at them. We withstood their best punches, that’s for sure, and our kids never gave up. They played tremendously.”
The Chiefs got off to a strong start, building an early 6-2 lead in the opening minutes on 3-pointers by Brandt and Hirst, before the Cardinals began to heat up. Prescott took a 16-11 lead with 9:30 left in the half on a 3-pointer from the left corner by Roosen, who had 19 points.
Wisconsin Dells answered with an 8-3 run, tying the game at 19 with 7:55 to go on a Hirst layup, but the Cardinals responded. Prescott outscored the Chiefs 24-13 the rest of the half.
The Cardinals played air-tight defense on Dells seniors Alex Weiss and Jackson Sveum, who were held to just eight combined points, well off their joint after of 27.6.
“They were going to make Alex’s life miserable. They weren’t going to let him be a catch-and-shoot guy, and Jackson, too,” Rohling said. “Credit to Prescott, they had a good game plan, but I thought we adjusted really well and made adjustments we needed to do. We just didn’t end up on the right side at the end of the game.”
Rohling admitted he didn’t envision his team making a run to its first sectional final in five years. The 11-year head coach credited the team’s six seniors — Weiss, Brandt, Sveum, John Pikula, Carter McCloskey and Darius MacKinnis — for propelling the Chiefs to within one win of their first state appearance since 2007.
“They got our program over the hump with a regional final and into the sectional final, and I think we have a good core nucleus, but we’re going to miss our six seniors,” Rohling said. “They did so much for us this year and you can’t say enough good things about them as leaders and just good, quality kids.”
PRESCOTT 86, WISCONSIN DELLS 76
Wisconsin Dells 32 44 — 76
Prescott 43 43 — 86
WISCONSIN DELLS — Weiss 2 0-0 4, Brandt 12 1-1 29, Pikula 1 0-0 2, Sveum 1 2-2 4, Hirst 10 6-6 30, Funmaker 2 2-3 7. Totals 28 11-12 76.
PRESCOTT — Brookshaw 10 9-13 34, Roosen 7 6-6 19, Nielsen 4 7-9 17, Rundquist 2 0-0 4, Tayson 3 4-4 10, Bartsch 0 2-2 2. Totals 26 22-28 86.
3-point goals — WD 9 (Brandt 4, Hirst 4, Funmaker 1), P 12 (Brookshaw 5, Roosen 5, Nielsen 2). Total fouls — WD 24, P 15. Fouled out — Brandt, Hirst.