Seven years ago, a last-minute scoring flurry vaulted Sam Dekker into Wisconsin prep basketball immortality.
But it almost never happened.
Before Dekker scored 12 points in the final 58 seconds of a come-from-behind state championship victory over Racine Lutheran and before the future University of Wisconsin star hit several big shots to help the Badgers reach back-to-back Final Fours on his way to being a first-round pick in the NBA Draft, Dekker and Sheboygan Area Lutheran had all they could handle in making it to the state finals.
The McDonell boys basketball team is making its fifth trip to state in eight years and opens play on Friday morning when the fourth-seeded Macks meet top-seeded Sheboygan Area Lutheran in the Division 5 state semifinals. It marks the second time the Macks and Crusaders have squared off at the Kohl Center after Sheboygan Area Lutheran edged the Macks 63-61 in 2012 in a game that had all the ingredients of a classic.
Seventh-year Sheboygan Area Lutheran head coach Nick Verhagen was an assistant for the Crusaders in 2012 and remembers the game well.
“That was a tough game,” Verhagen said during a statewide conference call on Sunday evening. “That’s one that a lot of people don’t talk about.”
Dekker scored 35 points and pulled down 16 rebounds for the Crusaders in the game, hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer with one minute, 12 seconds to go for the final of the game’s 25 lead changes.
The game was not decided until the final buzzer, when the Macks had a last-second shot that didn’t fall. The contest featured plenty of star power with a pair of future pro athletes in Dekker and McDonell’s Kyle Cody, now a pitcher in the Texas Rangers organization.
Cody posted a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds and led a balanced Macks scoring effort — Tyler Erickson scored 12 points, Ryan Baier added 11, Josh Watton finished with eight and Dennis Sloan and Austin Hiess scored seven and six points, respectively.
Two days later Dekker would go on to post one of the most memorable performances in state championship game history, scoring 40 points and grabbing 13 rebounds as the Crusaders won their first WIAA state championship in a 67-66 come-from-behind win over Racine Lutheran. Dekker’s final basket came with five seconds to go, a 3-pointer to cap a 9-point rally in the final 1:50.
“McDonell gave us everything,” Verhagen said. “It was a two-or three-point game (and we) had every chance to lose that game as well. Everybody focuses on that title game (against Racine Lutheran) and that shot that Sam (Dekker) hit, but that game against McDonell was a grinder.”
Verhagen additionally noted the 2012 McDonell team led by coach Archie Sherbinow as being well coached and talented.
“It made us better and I’m sure McDonell looks at that game in the rear-view mirror a little bit as one of those games that got away from them a little bit too,” Verhagen said.
It’s a game that this year’s McDonell team remembers well. Seniors Jaebin Bourget and Charlie Bleskachek were fifth graders in attendance at the Kohl Center and for them and many others, it was their first exposure to the excitement the state basketball tournament provides.
“It was super loud. It was my first playoff game I saw,” Bourget said. “It was a pretty cool experience to see that and seeing Sam Dekker and Kyle Cody. Those two went off and that was really fun to see.”
Seniors Cory Hoglund and Bleskachek have been on the roster for each of McDonell’s four straight state appearances while this year marks Bourget’s third in a row. For Bleskachek, that game helped stoke the fire for a love of basketball that has carried through into high school.
“I’ve always loved playing basketball and seeing them in fifth grade, I looked up to that team and wanted to be there some day,” Bleskachek said. “To be able to be there that many years in high school, all four years, is awesome. It’s awesome just to be able to experience it for myself.”
Friday’s semifinal matchup comes seven years to the day of the 2012 meeting.
And it could have all the makings of another instant classic.