Following an impressive 81-50 victory over West Allis Hale on Jan. 12 at home, Wauwatosa East boys basketball coach Tim Arndorfer was guarded in his emotions.
“We’ve been asking for something to change the momentum and hopefully this is it,” he said. “We still have to show up Friday and we’ve been in this spot before, bounce-back games. Now we will see what we do with it.
“A winning streak starts with one. Against a first place team in the conference, that’s one way to get it going.”
And now it is two. The Red Raiders went to West Allis Central and defeated the Bulldogs, 62-53, on Jan. 15.
The wins were the first time all season Tosa East managed to win two straight games. The Red Raiders still have a ways to go, but they are now 5-7 overall, including 3-3 in the Greater Metro Conference, two games behind first-place Marquette.
Speaking of the Hilltoppers, they are among Tosa East’s victims, as the Red Raiders won, 64-58, their first conference win, on Dec. 18. They also beat fourth-ranked Cedarburg, 56-51, on Dec. 30 at the WBY Tournament. They other win was a 55-41 victory in the season opener at Kettle Moraine on Nov. 25.
West Allis Hale
The Red Raiders got off to a fast start against Hale, jumping to a 15-6 lead at the 11:46 mark, which included a finishing 7-0 run on Najee Stewart’s 3-pointer and a rebound basket sandwiched around a putback basket by Ty Ederesinghe.
East increased the lead to double digits at 24-14 before Hale got hot, hitting three straight 3-pointers — two by Ryan Haertel and one by Devonte Patterson, making it 24-23 with 6:17 left in the half.
But East went on a 14-8 run to go into intermission with a 38-31 lead, sparked by 9 straight points by Jai’Vionne Green.
Leading 24-23, Blake Kratzer hit a huge 3-pointer, Mark Cole passed to Cal Rohde for an easy layup. Hale’s Greg Nelson put in a rebound basket and Casey Farner stole the ball and scored to cut the lead to 29-27.
But then Green took over.
First he hit a jumper, then he sank 1 of 2 free throws and then on a breakaway he had a shattering dunk shot that brough the house down for a 34-27 lead at 2:55.
Haertel hit a jumper for Hale, but Green countered with two jumpers of his own for a 38-29 advantage before Hale’s Brandon Barr closed out the have with a layup.
Arndorfer then talked about his team’s halftime strategy.
“I think in the second half we came out aggressive on offense,” he said. “In the first half they kept narrowing the gap. At halftime we talked about keeping your foot on the gas. We got a lot of transition and we haven’t done that all year.”
The Huskies looked like they were ready for another run to begin the second half, as Haertel and Mat Wall opened with baskets to cut East’s lead to 38-35 at 17:15. The Red Raiders then put on an 11-0 run.
DJ Verser hit a jumper, Stewart scored on a drive and Kratzer hit two free throws. Stewart hit another jumper, Kratzer made 1 of 2 free throws on a technical foul against Hale and Dane Mikkelson passed to Green for a layup for a 49-35 lead at the 12-minute mark.
With the score 52-41 with 8:21 left in the game, the Red Raiders then put the Huskies out of their misery, going on a 16-4 run to take a 68-45 lead at 4:29.
Several players took part in that run, as Verser, Stewart and Green each had 4 points each and Kratzer and Rohde each had a basket.
Tosa East drubbed Hale in the second half, 42-20, as the Red Raiders defense took over.
“We held them to 20 in the second half,” Arndorfer said. “Our defense didn’t let up. We got a lot of easy baskets and I think that was predicated on our defense and our ability to rebound. We held them to one shot almost all night. We had 80 points (overall). That’s a ‘get-well’ offensive game.”
Stewart led the way with 19 points and Green added 16. Kratzer had 13 and Verser 11. Haertel had 12 and Patterson added 10 for Hale.
West Allis Central
Tosa East battled West Allis Central toe-to-toe in the first half, 28-28, but then took over the game in the second half, going on a 34-25 run to earned a hard-fought victory.
“I think it’s a ‘backs against the wall’ mentality,” Arnforfer said. “I think we still stay in the hunt, just from a mental standpoint. Here we are at the halfway point 5-7.”
Stewart, a 6-foot, 3 inch wing, as stepped up his offensive game to give leading scorer senior co-captain Green some consistent help.
Stewart poured in 23 points, to go along with his 19-point performance in the win over Hale three days before. Most impressive was his four 3-pointers, something Tosa East needs desperately.
Green finished with 20 points, including 6 of 8 from the free throw line, going along with a 16-point game in the win over the Huskies.
That’s 42 points from Stewart and 36 from Green — 78 points — in the two wins, 55 percent of the Red Raiders points.
Five other players scored for East — Mikkelson (6), Ederesinghe (4), Rohde (4), Kratzer (3) and Verser (2).
East was 17 of 26 (. 654) from the free-throw line, while the Bulldogs only made it to the line 7 times, making 6.
Besides the fine play of Stewart, Arndorfer has had praise for junior guards Kratzer and Mikkelson.
Arndorfer talked about Kratzer’s ability to come up with key plays, big baskets.
“He’s done that numerous times,” he said. “That’s starting to be his role. When he drove to the basket he was under control. He’s little but he’s got a big heart. He can help us on the offensive end, there is no question.
Mikkelson has playing more point guard, which frees Stewart up to shoot more, and he does a fine job on defense.
“We know we have two legitimate stoppers in Dane and Ty (Ederesinghe),” Arndorfer said. “Dane did a nice job of getting us into stuff and not panicking. In the past we have struggled when not getting the first option, second option. We were much more patient in getting guys to spots.
“Overall it feels a lot better than a week ago. We haven’t gotten out and run like that all year.”
The Red Raiders host Brookfield East, who is 2-9, but 0-6 in GMC play, on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Then they meet crosstown rival Tosa West (5-6) in a 7:30 p.m. game on Saturday, Jan. 23.
Then they host Brookfield Central (7-4, 4-1) on Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 7:30 p.m. Central won the first meeting, 63-49, on Dec. 11 at Central.