Falcons fend off Timberwolves, reach regional final
HUSTISFORD — Two weeks ago, the Falcons had to play a road game against two-time conference champion Lourdes Academy without their top scorer when senior guard Justin Kuehl was out sick.
Husty lost, but the shorthanded Falcons got some mileage out of the situation. They lost by 13 after losing by nine with Kuehl in the lineup the first time around.
“We hate to see him be down like that, but it was actually great to see other players step up,” Hustisford junior point guard Dylan Schmitt said. “I think it helps right now when we face adversity. They are used to it a little bit more than they had been.”
Adversity came knocking on Friday night, when Kuehl managed just four first half points and spent much of the game in foul trouble. But the sum of Hustisford’s parts was up to the task, as the second-seeded Falcons fought off a challenge from seventh-seeded Living Word Lutheran to win 69-63 in a WIAA Division 5 regional semifinal on Friday at the Falcons’ Nest.
Hustisford (22-2) opened the game on a 10-0 run and never trailed, but Living Word Lutheran (9-15) put up an inspired fight and forced the Falcons to grind through all 36 minutes.
In that sense, the seventh-ranked Falcons will be more battle-tested when they host sixth-seeded Catholic Central for the regional championship tonight at 7 o’clock.
“We needed a test,” Hustisford boys basketball coach Jake Falkenthal said. “From here on out, it’s going to be a battle. You get everyone’s best effort. Everyone gets a fresh start. There was a lot of adversity. I thought the guys did a phenomenal job just handling everything that was thrown their way.
“I know Justin was frustrated with not getting decent looks and having to work hard, and some of the other guys were frustrated not being able to get some shots off. But we weathered the storm and we stayed composed and we never got too out of our game, even when it was going bad.”
Husty finished the game with four in double figures. Schmitt led the way with 20 points. Kuehl scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, including a clutch 11-of-14 performance at the foul line which helped keep the Timberwolves at bay.
Sophomore guard Dylan Kuehl added 16 points and junior forward Zach Kehl added 10. Sophomore forward Brody Thimm and freshman guard Gavin Thimm also contributed good minutes off the bench.
“Very proud (of the team),” Kuehl said. “That’s something we might not have had in years past is guys step up in big moments, and that’s honestly why we haven’t made it to state in a while, because when we get into adversity, our older guys never stepped up. Now, with our younger guys stepping up, if we keep doing it, if they keep stepping up like they have been even in conference play, I don’t think there’s anybody that can beat us.”
The Falcons were coming off a 111-29 beatdown of Elkhart Lake-Glenbuelah and the momentum carried into this one. Kehl opened the game with a 3-pointer, which weirdly enough was the only triple from a team averaging six a game.
Schmitt’s mid-range stroke was true in the first half, when he scored nine of his points. But Justin Kuehl’s shot was off. He attacked the basket easily, but finishing was challenging against a Living Word Lutheran box-and-one scheme led by senior center Ezra DuFour, who stands 6-foot-7 with a thick frame.
Even when Kuehl converted his favorite high percentage shot, a halfcourt steal and dunk late in the first half, he was hit with technical foul for taunting for his third foul of the night.
The missed shots gave the Timberwolves a chance to cut into the lead. DuFour scored 11 of his 23 points in the first half as Living Word Lutheran cut the deficit to 26-23 when senior guard Simon Heller hit both free throws following Kuehl’s technical with 2:31 left in the half. Heller led all scorers with 26.
“I was forcing quite a bit,” Justin Kuehl said. “I wasn’t waiting to get my opportunities and I was trying to make them fall on my own instead of moving the ball a little bit more and getting a wide open shot.”
Schmitt made sure Husty regained a six-point cushion heading into halftime. He drove baseline and converted a three-point play while drawing DuFour’s second foul.
“They came out with a good game plan with the box and one,” Schmitt said. “They weren’t leaving (Justin) alone the whole game. It was good just to see a lot of people step up. Other people were making shots. Our interior presence was a lot better tonight than it had been the last game, so that was good to see.”
Strong team passing has been a staple of this team all season, and it needed to be on this night. Dylan Kuehl and Kehl found each other for scores to help Husty off-set a big night for Heller and DuFour.
“We practice all the time to drive down the lane,” Dylan Kuehl said. “All the defenders will all come up and gather around the guy with the ball. Then we’ll just dish it off opposite side. It was just part of our game plan to draw that big No. 55 (DuFour) out and dish it off side for a wide open bunny.”
Kehl led the Falcons with five rebounds while looking for teammates such as Dylan Kuehl to pass to.
“We’ve played together since sixth, seventh grade,” Kehl said. “We have a good chemistry together. We know where each other are. I’m not the big scorer, but I get defensive rebounds. I know my part, so I just try to do whatever I can.”
Schmitt scored 11 second half points and converted one of two three-point opportunities in the second half as the Falcons continued to play with the lead.
Living Word Lutheran cut the lead to 37-35 on a putback by DuFour with 13:33 left in regulation, but 40 seconds later Dylan Kuehl drove the lane and drew DuFour’s fourth foul.
DuFour headed to the bench and Husty went on an 8-0 run to regain control. Back-to-back steals led to layups by Schmitt and Dylan Kuehl.
“It felt good (attacking DuFour),” Dylan Kuehl said. “That was our plan was to go at him, because we knew he’s jump. That was our plan was to go at him and get him in foul trouble.”
Though Justin Kuehl picked up his fourth foul during that run, his teammates made sure he could afford to sit out for a bit.
“I think that our other guys were being threats and getting to the rim, and shots started to fall so they had to come out and guard us,” Justin Kuehl said. “They couldn’t sag into the lane and do what they were doing the first half. They realized they had to guard us.
“We have one guy step up every game, a couple guys step up every game. That’s what we need to space the floor, because they have to come up and guard us. Everybody will pick their times and we’ll get to the rim and we’ll start shooting, everybody gets a shot to fall and we’re good.”
Living Word Lutheran stayed in the game by hitting six 3-pointers, including four by Heller. But Justin Kuehl led a close-out effort at the foul line.
Kehl had the satisfaction of drawing DuFour’s fifth foul on a charge with 53 seconds remaining.
“It felt good, man,” Kehl said. “I was excited. It’s hard. I use my quickness against them if they are bigger than me. (This game) gets us ready for the next round, because we know it’s going to be harder for the next round. It’s going to keep getting harder.”
This team appears ready to embrace it.
“I think we’re all in it mentally this year,” Schmitt said. “I think we’ve all got the experience down. The jitters aren’t quite as there as they used to be and I think we’re just bottom line more talented than we were last year. We have more potential to beat teams late in the game. We’re better fundamentally.”
Catholic Central upset third-seeded Hilbert 48-35 in the other regional semifinal. The Hilltoppers enter tonight’s game with an 11-13 record, including a 6-10 mark in the rugged Metro Classic led by Martin Luther and Racine St. Catherine’s who shared the league title with matching 15-1 marks.
LIVING WORD LUTHERAN 63
Living Word 23 40 — 63
Hustisford 29 40 — 69
Living Word (fg-ft-tp) — Miskimen 1-0-3, Green 3-0-6, Heller 8-4-26, Juregensen 1-0-3, Martinez 1-0-2, DuFour 10-3-23 Totals 24 9-14 63
Hustisford (fg-ft-tp) — Schmitt 8-4-20, J. Kuehl 4-11-19, B. Thimm 0-2-2, D. Kuehl 6-4-16, Z. Kehl 4-1-10, G. Thimm 1-0-2 Totals 23 22-34 69
Three-point goals — L, Miskimen, Heller 4, Juergensen; H, Z. Kehl
Total fouls — LW 23, H 16
Fouled out — LW, Crook, DuFour
Technical foul — H, J. Kuehl