Cards stand tall in second straight sectional finals win
Remember when people doubted the Prescott boys basketball team's chances of earning another WIAA state tournament bid?
The Cardinals do, and they're now smirking at those who ruled them out for making noise this season after earning their third trip to the Kohl Center in four years on Saturday, March 10.
The Cards (24-2) claimed another playoffs victim in their 86-76 WIAA Division 3 Sectional 1 finals defeat over Wisconsin Dells (24-2) at Menomonie High School, and reminded people that they can still stand tall when matched with opponents who boast a height advantage over them.
The Dells were the type of team that doubters warned Prescott fans of at the beginning of the season; they're leading scorer stands tall at 6-foot-8, and they only list two players below 6-foot on their roster. The Cardinals weren't supposed to be able to matchup with a team like the Dells, according to preseason skeptics, but the Cardinals have proven countless times that when faced with adversity, their confidence and trust in their team is enough to quiet the naysayers.
Prescott came out with scorching shooting hands, hitting nine threes to jump to an 11-point halftime lead over the Dells team that hadn't been to a sectional finals game since 2013. Four of Prescott's nine threes came from senior Joe Roosen. Roosen has been known for his defensive play all season, but has made teams take him seriously on offense over the course of the playoffs.
"I didn't have a lot of confidence at the beginning of the season offensively," Roosen said. "People would say you're just good on defense, but that's why I wanted to keep shooting. I know I can make shots, and picking up that role in the playoffs has been huge."
The Dells came out in a 1-2-2 zone keeping Peter Brookshaw double-teamed at the top of the key, leaving Roosen and Parker Nielsen open behind the arc in Prescott's extended zone offense.
But the Dells got theirs, too. Brett Hirst put up a 20-point first half to lead all scorers before the break, and challenged the Cardinals to rev up their perimeter defense with three first-half threes of his own. Despite Hirst's efforts, and 6-foot-8 Tanner Brandt's 12 first-half points, the Cardinals entered the locker room with an 11-point lead. Yet, they were ready for the Dells to fire back. And they did.
The Dells began the second half on a 9-0 run and drew four fouls against the Cardinals in the first five minutes after the break, and a Brandt steal-turned layup gave the blue team their first lead of the second half with 14:30 to go. Six lead changes followed before the Dells took a two-possession lead with 10:31 on the clock. The Cardinals responded with two Westy Bartsch free throws and a Roosen pump fake that opened up the guard's driving lane to regain the lead at 59-58, but Prescott critics sat up in their seats when Brookshaw was called for his fourth foul with 6:57 on the clock. Prescott head coach Nick Johnson put his trust in his point guard and kept him in the game in foul trouble, and Brookshaw didn't disappoint.
"He didn't lose his cool, and I was proud of him," Johnson said. "At halftime, we knew they weren't going away. We knew they'd come punch us in the second half and that we needed to come weather the storm."
The senior point guard rose to the challenge and stuck to pull-up jumpers to avoid anymore charge calls against him, while Prescott moved to a zone defense to avoid Brookshaw fouling out on a reach-in call. Brookshaw then put up five quick points that were followed by a Roosen three, which gave the Cardinals an eight-point lead and silenced those who questioned their abilities.
"We were led by two great leaders," Johnson said of Brookshaw and Roosen's run. "Petey knows he needs to make those deep-range shots for us. He's such a tough player mentally and physically; he is our leader. And Joe Roosen is just as important with what he does."
Johnson also praised Derek Rundquist's defensive work against Brandt. "I could speak so highly about Derek for what he's done for us in the last three or four games. He's a guy who hasn't played a lot for us but has understood his role, and now he might have been the most important player on the floor with what he did defensively," Johnson said. "I'm so proud of him and all the kids."
The Dells were able to get within four of the Cardinals with 1:19 left in the game, but were forced to send the defending sectional champions to the free-throw line three times in the final minute of the game. Brookshaw grabbed the final rebound of the game, dribbled down to the Prescott student section with a smile on his face and a fist in the air, happy to give his team's loyal fans their second-consecutive sectional finals title.
"This is a great feeling. It's crazy. There's nothing like it," Brookshaw said after earning a spot in the WIAA Division 3 state tournament. Brookshaw led the Cardinals with 34 points and 10 rebounds, while Roosen finished with 19 points.
"We've been doubted a lot this year. People said we wouldn't be back at state because of our height, but we really haven't been affected by that all year in my mind," Johnson said, "and that's because of our game plan and our kids' discipline defensively. We've got tough, physical kids. We make up for (our height disadvantage) with our physical and mental toughness.
"We have kids who work so hard, and they believe in the system, they believe in themselves, they believe in their coaches, they believe in the fans," Johnson said. "It's pretty crazy what they've been able to accomplish."
The Cardinals will represent Prescott at the state tournament in the semifinals on Thursday, March 15, and aren't done disproving the doubters. They're returning to the Kohl Center with hopes of bringing home Prescott's first Division 3 title.
"This feels fantastic," Roosen said. "This has been our goal all season. Since the end of last year we said we've already got a silver ball. Now we want a gold ball, and that's what we're going to go for."