On a night when you expected the big-name players to come through, it was two Brookfield Central role players that helped steal the show.
As a result, the Lancers edged Sussex Hamilton, 58-56, in double overtime Tuesday at home.
The Chargers came into the game with a 19-1 record and a 12-0 record in the Greater Metro Conference. The second-place Lancers were 17-3 and 11-1 in conference play, thanks to a 41-30 loss Jan. 8 at Sussex in the teams' first meeting.
When Chargers junior Brady Ellingson missed a shot at the end of regulation and then again at the end of the first overtime, the Lancers finally won the game with 7.1 seconds remaining in the second overtime.
With Central leading 55-54, junior guard Gunnar Malensek was fouled and went to the free throw line. Malensek was barely shooting 50 percent from the free throw line and wasn't supposed to be the one with the ball in his hands.
But the Chargers had three players on Central star Riley LaChance and Malensek stepped to the free throw line and drained two free throws for a 57-54 lead.
"I've been shooting good in practice all week, so I had confidence," Malensek said.
Senior guard Mark Gryszkiewicz then was fouled before the Chargers could get off a 3-point shot and he dropped in two free throws to cut the lead to one at 57-56.
But the Lancers got the ball back into LaChance's hands and the usually reliable LaChance saw his first shot go in and out before calmly nailing the second with 2.6 seconds to play.
With three Lancers guarding Ellingson, junior guard Austin Kendziorski missed on shot from the right side and the game was finally over.
LaChance finished the game with 25 points and Elijah Goodman added 20 for Central, but the story of the game was the job Malensek and junior guard Terry Wallen did on Ellingson, who was six inches taller than the former and five inches taller than the latter.
"We got guys like Terry and Gunnar, who fill a role," an exhausted Central coach Mark Adams said afterward. "Gunnar was up there for cold-blooded free throws."
Afterward Wallen talked about their plan, a simple one that was hard to pull off against an athlete like Ellingson.
"Our plan was basically to deny him the ball," Wallen said. "Where he goes, we go. Try to make sure he doesn't touch the ball. If he doesn't get the ball, he can't score. If someone came near us, we didn't do help defense, we just stayed on our guy all the time.
"It was exciting for me and Gunnar. Usually we play about 5 to 10 minutes a game. We had to play a lot more today. It was a good experience to guard a great player like that."
Adams changed his defense right from the start, tossing out the 1-3-1 zone and starting in a man-to-man for the first time all year.
"The pace was just too slow at their place (first time around)," he said. "We had a different starting lineup because we have certain guys (Malensek/Wallen) who can get after them man-to-man. We explained to our guys that were normally starting (Brad Newman/Luke Rasmussen) that this is a team and guys accept their roles and they change abruptly."
Adams then praised both guards for their hustling play.
"I can't say enough about what both guys did. We just kept running them in every 3 to 4 minutes to do whatever we could to tire Brady out. We said, 'This time we're not going to have him beat us.' Last time he and (Tony) Gumina did a number on us. Brady scores 14 points, I'll take that."
"I'm proud of our kids," Chargers coach Andy Cerroni said afterward. "We knew it was going to be a battle. We talked about it being a championship game, a championship effort.
"We had some opportunities; it was about making plays, we had some chances, missed some free throws. They earned a right to play in a game like this and they certainly didn't disappoint me, our community or our program."
Brookfield Central never found its way into the game against league front-runner Sussex Hamilton on Tuesday, falling by a 45-32 count.
Lydia Rohde (13 points) and Sarah Fotsch (12 points) accounted for all of the Central field goals in the first half and all but two in the entire game. Hamilton secured at least a share of the Greater Metro Conference crown, and the Lancers were eliminated from title contention.
"I want us to be more competitive," Central coach Dan Wandrey said. "What would they do at the end of the game against us if it's a one-point game? I don't know. We don't get close to that. These experiences (against great teams) have not been a great teaching tool for our team. We have six losses, and every team we lost to is ranked in the top five in the state."
But to give you an example, we played Eisenhower on a Tuesday and Hamilton on Friday (in the first meeting), and it was 24-7 at halftime against Hamilton, so losing to Eisenhower didn't teach us."
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