FOND DU LAC — The Falcons showed what they were made of. Twice.
Unfortunately, a third time was needed.
Seventh-ranked Hustisford opened a Division 5 sectional semifinal against second-ranked Sheboygan Area Lutheran on a 21-6 run, only to see the Crusaders close the half on a 31-5 run of their own.
Trailing by 19 in the second half, the Falcons roared back to force overtime at Fond du Lac High School, but Sheboygan Area Lutheran dominated the extra period to claim a 76-64 victory. The Crusaders will take on Rio, a 46-43 upset winner over top-ranked Randolph, for the sectional championship on Saturday in West Bend. Husty beat Rio by double figures earlier this season.
Hustisford (23-3) attacked Sheboygan Area Lutheran’s zone spearheaded by 6-foot-7 junior Jacob Ognacevic with strong interior passing. Sophomore guard Dylan Kuehl opened the game with an inside basket on a drive and dish from junior point guard Dylan Schmitt and senior guard Justin Kuehl hit a 3-pointer to give the Falcons and early 5-0 lead.
Justin Kuehl finished the first half with 14 of his game-high 28 points, while Dylan Kuehl added eight of his 19 points, including a baseline dunk to put the Falcons up 15-6 with 10 minutes, 31 seconds left in the opening half.
But Dylan Kuehl also picked up a technical after getting blocked from behind by Ognacevic with 3:55 left in the half and headed to the bench.
Ognacevic made both free throws to cut Husty’s lead to 23-22 and when Ognacevic scored on a putback on his team’s ensuing possession, the Crusaders led 24-23, and for the first time all postseason, Hustisford trailed.
The Falcons went into halftime down 37-26 and SAL scored the first eight points of the second half to build what looked like an insurmountable 45-26 lead with 15:40 to play.
Husty rallied behind 11 points from Dylan Kuehl and another 14 from Justin Kuehl, plus six from sophomore forward Brody Thimm’s eight points.
A steal by Schmitt led to the final dunk of Justin Kuehl’s career with 8:55 to play, cutting the deficit to 49-45. He later hit a 3 to trim the lead to 51-50 and his driving layup with 7:01 to play put the Falcons ahead 52-51 with 7:01 left. The final points of the school’s career leading scorer came on a 3 from the left elbow to give Husty a 58-56 lead with 3:18 to play.
Senior guard Delvin Barnstable, who scored 26 points to complement Ognacevic’s 28, scored his team’s next two baskets, but Thimm answered to tie the game with 1:16 left in regulation.
The Crusaders held for the last shot, which didn’t go with two seconds to play.
In overtime, Ognacevic opened the scoring with a pull-up jumper with 3:03 to go. Dylan Kuehl answered on an assist from junior forward Zach Kehl with 2:43 to go.
Ognacevic answered with two free throws with 2:17 to go, then grabbed two straight defensive rebounds after missed 3s by Justin Kuehl and Schmitt. The Crusaders would close the game out by hitting 11-of-14 free throws in overtime. Hustisford shot just 1-of-3 at the line for the game.
Schmitt finished with five rebounds and five assists. Zach Kehl had eight rebounds while Justin Kuehl and Dylan Kuehl each had seven boards. Justin Kuehl had three assists while Kehl had two.
“I thought the start was exactly what we needed to set the tone, let them know that we were here,” Hustisford boys basketball coach Jake Falkenthal said. “Everything that we worked on was working. They made just a little bit of an adjustment to the defense.
But with Dylan picking up his second foul there and having to go to the bench kind of hurt, because Dylan was playing such good defense all night on 23 (Ognacevic).
“I mean, he had to work hard. End of the first half, and the beginning of the second half. If we could do that again, do somoe things different, the outcome might be different.
Down 19, to go on a 24-6 run in seven minutes, bring yourself right back in the game. That just shows the guys ... that’s character. That’s heart, to not quit and to bring it back. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have the last shot in regulation. I think if we get the last shot in regulation, I think the outcome would be different.
“We needed to match them (in overtime). We did right away. Then those jumpers didn’t go and he just was able to rebound and we had to foul and they made the free throws.”
It was Hustisford’s third sectional appearance in the last five seasons. But the team had aspirations of finally getting the program to the state tournament.
“It’s emotional,” Falkenthal said. “It sucks because we deserved to win that game. We deserved to win tonight, and for it to not go our way, it hurts because as a coach, when you tell your kids to leave it on the court.
To actually see it and experience it, it’s something special.”
Justin Kuehl was proud of the way his team started, and the way it responded to adversity.
“That was our game plan to come out hard and show them what we were made of right away,” Justin Kuehl said. “We showed everybody here what we were made of, including all the people that predicated against us all year long.
They went on a run, we came back, but we didn’t execute down the stretch.
“To be so close two times, especially this time, to get revenge from freshman year, to be so close and not get (to state), that sucks.”
Kuehl carried on the legacy of his father, Brock, and his uncle, Beau, who were studs on tremendous teams in the late 1990s.
“It’s been really good to keep the tradition in Hustisford going,” Kuehl said. “I feel like (I’ve been) leaving my mark on the school, just like the rest of the family has done. Hopefully, I can keep going down the line (in college).”
Kuehl knows the Falcons will be in good shape even as he leaves after four tremendous seasons. Dylan Kuehl will handle the dunking duties from now on in Husty, just as he did with the baseline jam in the first half.
“He’s been working hard for it (that dunk) and he really wanted it, so I am glad he got it,” Justin Kuehl said. “They are a really good team. They’ll be back next year.”
SHEBOYGAN AREA LUTHERAN 76, HUSTISFORD 64, OT
Hustisford 26 34 4 — 64
Sheb. Luth. 37 23 16 — 76
Hustisford (fg-ft-tp) — Schmitt 1-0-3, J. Kuehl 12-0-28, Thimm 4-0-8, D. Kuehl 9-1-19, Z. Kehl 3-0-6 Totals 29 1-3 64
Sheb. Luth. (fg-ft-tp) — Grabowski 4-0-8, Berger 3-0-6, Barnstable 9-4-26, Ognacevic 9 10-11 28, Jurss 0-1-1, Verhagen 1-4-7 Totals 26 19-24 76
Three-point goals — H, J. Kuehl 4, D. Schmitt; SAL, Barnstable 4, Verhagen
Total fouls — H 18, S 8.
Fouled out — H, J. Kuehl.
Technical foul — H, D. Kuehl.