Trailing at halftime to the team that knocked them out of the tournament in 2015, Elijah Moore and the Whitefish Bay Blue Dukes were 18 minutes away from a depressing feeling of déjà vu. Clutch shot-making and some gritty defense late helped them avoid another similar, bitter defeat.
Moore poured in 18 second-half points, and host Whitefish Bay fought past Wauwatosa East for a tense, thrilling 65-64 victory in a WIAA Division 2 regional playoff game on March 4.
'We didn't want our season to end the same way that it did last year,' Moore said. 'Coach (Chris) Millner wanted me to relax and let the game come to me, and designed a few plays to get me to attack the basket, which helped me find my rhythm.'
Offensive rhythm was hard to come by for any of the Blue Dukes (14-9) early, except for junior David Thompson, who scored his team's first 13 points as Bay jumped out to a 16-12 advantage. But the half belonged to East's Jai'vionne Green, who scored 18 first-half points on an array of jumpers, drives and putbacks as the Red Raiders (11-13) roared ahead. Green keyed a late 10-0 run that fired up a large Wauwatosa East fan contingent and propelled the visitors to a 33-28 halftime lead.
A more aggressive Blue Dukes offense responded with a 10-0 run of their own early in the second half, highlighted by a slashing basket and deep 3-pointer from Moore to help stake Bay to a 43-37 lead. East responded with 9 straight points to pull back ahead before Moore connected on another 3 to knot the game at 46 with 8:34 remaining.
From there, the teams played a competitive contest that remained a single-possession game until the final seconds. Thompson brought the home crowd to its feet with just under three minutes remaining when he darted in front of a pass along the baseline near half court and finished with a layup to give the Blue Dukes a 3-point edge. Thompson finished with 19 points for Whitefish Bay, while Moore scored a team-high 24 on the evening.
'I believe that David and Elijah are the best one-two punch in the state, and either one can get hot at any moment. It's tough to stop both of them at the same time,' Millner said. 'Their zone trap is phenomenal, but we were able to pick it apart a bit and attack down the stretch.'
East has several opportunities to tie or take the lead late, but two straight misfires on excellent looks from 3-point range and a critical charging call on Green down the stretch doomed the Red Raiders. Green finished with a team-high 29 points for East.
While they had their chances, East head coach Tim Arndorfer was most disappointed that his team was unable to build an earlier lead due to their struggles taking care of the basketball.
'We didn't execute well enough all night,' Arndorfer said. 'We had opportunities to extend our lead and just didn't play with enough discipline on offense. We turned the ball over 24 times in a game we needed to find two more points. You aren't going to beat many teams turning it over like that.'
Two free throws from Jake Fisher, and another from Thompson helped keep the Blue Dukes a step ahead, extending Bay's lead to 65-61 with seven seconds left in the game. East's Blake Kratzer hit a three with two seconds remaining, but East was unable to get the ball back.
With the victory, Whitefish Bay advanced and defeated Pius XI (16-8), 56-53, on March 5 in a regional final matchup. The No. 2 seeded Blue Dukes (15-9) will play top-seed Milwaukee Washington (19-5) at Greenfield at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 10.
Tosa East finished with an 11-13 overall record.