Another big step was taken on this season's upward swing by the Greenfield boys basketball team with a thrilling 63-62 overtime victory over Whitnall on Feb. 11.
The Hustlin' Hawks prevailed before a huge home crowd when Rayvon Bartlett Jr. hit a free throw with 3 seconds remaining to break a 62-62 tie. Whitnall's Tyler Herro, who returned this week after missing several games with a knee injury, then missed a half-court attempt at the buzzer.
The victory, Greenfield's fifth in six games, boosted the Hawks to 9-5 in the Woodland Conference East Division and 12-7 overall, quadrupling last season's total of three triumphs.
"The kids are playing better and better each game," coach Kyle Johnsen said. "From day one (this season), we have taken a tremendous leap."
The Hawks take on Cudahy at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, at home and then close the regular season at Wauwatosa West at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22.
The loss dropped the Falcons to 10-3 in the East, one-half game behind Brown Deer (11-3). Whitnall (12-6 overall) finishes the regular season with three home contests: Shorewood at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17; South Milwaukee in a makeup game at 7:15 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20; and New Berlin West at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22.
Those three teams have a combined record of 7-33 in Woodland play, but coach Steve Kujawa is taking nothing for granted.
"Teams are going to give us everything they've got," Kujawa said. "We have three games left, and we need to take care of business. We have to bounce back and regroup."
Greenfield, which was seeking to avenge a tough loss to the Falcons in January, hung with them all the way in the Feb. 11 contest. The Falcons led by a slim 2 points at 31-29 at the half, and the second half remained tight.
Whitnall had the final possession of regulation with about 45 seconds left and the game tied at 57-57. The Falcons worked the ball around and got it to Herro, who missed a 3-point field goal attempt, forcing overtime.
"That was a well-contested shot," Greenfield coach Johnsen said.
In the overtime, the score was even again, but this time, the Hawks had the ball and looked for the last shot. Bartlett got the ball and was double-teamed, but Whitnall fouled him with 3 seconds remaining, and he then hit one free throw for a 63-62 lead.
"We rebounded the second one (a miss), made a good pass to Tyler, and his shot just hit the iron," Kujawa said.
Bartlett finished with 22 points and seven rebounds, and Jared Davis continued his fine play with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
"Jared has averaged a double-double in the last few games," Johnsen said, "and Ray has been so consistent all year."
Also for Greenfield, Drew Kassel came off the bench and hit three crucial 3-point shots, Ezekiel Banks added 6 points and Billy Pitroski played a key role as well, Johnsen said.
"Billy set screens, got rebounds and guarded (Whitnall's Kevion) Taylor," the coach said. "He was phenomenal; he just played until he couldn't play anymore because he started cramping up. He has been starting for us and gives us 28 to 30 minutes each game, doing all the little things."
Herro gets 23
Herro paced Whitnall with 23 points, Taylor added 16 points with a trio of 3-point shots and Dan Alexopoulos, also returning from injury, tossed in 10 points.
Even though Herro scored 23 points, Johnsen said the Hawks made it difficult on him.
"Sam Streeter and Donnie Reasby did a great job on him," the Greenfield coach said. "That was a tough 23 points. He is a great basketball player, and there's a reason why he's going to Wisconsin, but we made him work for his points."
Despite the loss, Kujawa was able to appreciate the special atmosphere of the game, which was the nightcap to a girls-boys doubleheader.
"That was a whale of a game, with the gym just packed to the rafters," he said.