The important initial goals have all been ticked off the list for the Germantown boys basketball team.
Unbeaten regular season at 22-0.
Unbeaten North Shore Conference title 14-0.
Fifth North Shore title in six years.
It was also another game to be played, to be enjoyed, to be savored.
And in the eyes of Warhawk coach Steve Showalter, that last item was the most important thing, as the team's magical season continued with a 79-71 victory over a tenacious Homestead team Thursday night in the regular season closer.
"We want to keep marching through this thing," he said, "but the biggest thing with this team for me is that I just don't want it to end. Whether we win our last game (and a first-ever WIAA state championship) or we lose it. Either way, I'm going to be a puddle of tears. The championship would be great, but just to have a few more games with these guys would be even better yet because it has been that enjoyable of a season."
And the way these Warhawks are playing, it is a distinct possibility that Germantown could win that ulitmate last game, as despite the fact that the host Highlanders (11-3 in NSC and 18-4 overall) rained down an impressive 13 three-pointers, the score never got inside seven points in the second half.
Still, this was a major step forward in the eyes of Highlander coach Marquis Hines as it was the closest game of the season for the Warhawks and the first time someone has been inside double digits on Germantown all winter.
It was also a substantial improvement over the 86-48 drubbing the Warhawks hit the Highlanders with a month ago in Germantown.
"That team collectively is one of the best I've seen in the last seven to 10 years," said Hines of Germantown, "and I helped with Tom Diener (and the multi-time state champion Milwaukee Vincent squads)."
"But the good thing here, was that we got back to playing Homestead basketball. Last week (in a bad loss to third-place Whitefish Bay), that wasn't Homestead basketball. Tonight it was. I was really proud of the kids.
The two squads could have a third contest on March 8 in a WIAA sectional semifinal at Waukesha North.
Played on a festive and meaningful night in Mequon that featured a large fundraiser for long-time Homestead coach and teacher Tony Navarre, who is battling cancer as well as induction ceremonies for the Homestead Athletic Hall of Fame, the game was entertaining from the start.
Homestead was far more aggressive than they were the first time the two teams played, making Germantown work very hard for everything it got. Still, back-to-back three-pointers from Warhawk guards Zak Showalter (25 points) and Josh Mongan (14) made it 43-26 with 3:20 remaining in the half.
But Homestead battled back and got the critical third-foul on Zak Showalter with just .2 left on the clock. Homestead point guard Joe Binyoti (10) hit two of three free throws to cut the margin to 45-34 at the half.
"Boy, did I get chewed out at halftime for that one," chuckled Zak afterwards.
But he made up for it at the start of the third, with back-to-back steals. The first of which ended in a dunk and the second in a lay-up as Germantown went on a 8-0 run to give itself the largest lead of the game at 53-34.
It was still 63-50 going into the fourth quarter but that's when the Highlanders pushed back a little before the enthusiastic and very large home crowd.
Center Luke Worthington hit one of two free throws with 4:11 remaining, but when the rebound was tipped on the second missed attempt, Highlander guard Jake Laihinen (11) turned it into a three-pointer that cut the lead to 67-58 with 3:59 remaining.
Just a short time later, LaMonte Bearden (12) hit another three to cut it to 69-62. Another shot by Laihinen with 2:16 left made it 71-64, but then Mongan buried the last of his four three-pointers of the night to make it 74-64 Germantown at the 1:51 mark.
Seven was as close it got the remainder of the way.
"It was definitely a lot harder than it was the first time around," said Mongan. "We'd knew they'd shoot better at home and we were a little rusty from not having played in a week. They (the Highlanders) came out hard, stayed focused and just kept pushing."
'When a team shoots 75 percent with its three-pointers, its going to be hard to beat them," said Zak Showalter. "Still, it was a good win. This team (Homestead) is tough to beat and we helped them out with some missed shots (only 11 of 20 from the foul line)."
"They fell asleep in that Bay game last week. We were determined not to do that here. Or in the future for that matter (laughs)."
Post players Luke Fischer (15 points) and Dan Studer (11) helped out for Germantown as did guard Zack Kumbier (10).
Sam Kaegi added 11 for the Highlanders.
"Even though we lost our last two games (of the regular season), this kind of game is a good boost, a shot of momentum for us," said Hines. "Now we get ready for Friday March 2 (regional semifinals)."
So will the Warhawks, but for the moment, coach Showalter is going to savor this latest achievement.
"Winning a conference title means so much," he said. "It was such a battle for us to get to the point where we could win just one title (six years ago), so we're not going to take something like this for granted. It's why we cut down the nets last week (after the clinching win over Nicolet) and why we order championship t-shirts."
"Because it does mean a lot, because it is such a tough basketball league."
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