In close basketball games, the final couple of minutes in both halves are vital, and the Whitnall boys owned those stretches of time against Greenfield on Jan. 6.
The Falcons broke away from ties with 9-0 scoring runs in the closing minutes of both halves, and those bursts were enough to give them a hard-fought 65-58 victory over their rival in front of a full house at Whitnall.
The score was even at 27-27 in the first half; then Tyler Herro netted 5 quick points, and Jonah Bzdawka tallied two baskets in the final seconds to put the Falcons up, 36-27, going into halftime.
The end of the game was even more crucial. Greenfield's Rayvon Bartlett Jr. brought his team back from 11 points down with a huge run featuring a trio of 3-point shots, including a four-point play, to tie things at 53-53 with 4 minutes, 55 seconds left.
Whitnall responded with a huge 3-point shot from William Kegel, a putback by Joseph Tilley and a driving three-point play from Herro to go ahead 62-53 and held on from there.
"We got a couple key stops; we spread the ball out," Whitnall coach Steve Kujawa said. "I think our experience last year (the trip to the WIAA state tournament) really helped us. (Greenfield) is an up-and-coming team and has a lot of confidence. I just think playing at home, down the stretch, we just found a way to win, gutted it out."
Greenfield coach Kyle Johnsen said of the final minutes, "They (the Falcons) buried that one big 3. It was a great shot. We were daring (Kegel) to do it, and he did it. We came down, we took a bad shot and then it was tough coming back."
The victory boosted Whitnall to 5-0 in the Woodland Conference East Division and 7-2 overall. The Hawks slipped to 3-3 and 6-3.
The game was close at the start, with Greenfield's Manny McDonald tying it at 27-27 on a layup off a steal.
Herro hit a 3-point shot and a pair of free throws to make it 32-27. Then Bzdawka took a pass from Kegel for a basket with just over 1 second left. Greenfield turned the ball over in the backcourt, and Whitnall put up an inbounds alley-oop that was tipped in by Bzdawka at the buzzer for a 36-27 halftime lead.
The Falcons rode that momentum early in the second half for a 43-30 advantage, but later Bartlett went to work.
With Whitnall up, 49-38, Bartlett nailed a 3-point shot. Another 3-pointer by Donnie Reasby made it 51-45, and Bartlett then netted a 3-pointer from the corner, drew a foul and made the free throw for a four-point play to trim the margin to 51-50.
"We made a great comeback," Johnsen said, "and Ray was phenomenal."
After Herro scored on a drive, Bartlett dropped another 3-point shot for the 53-53 tie, which was broken by Kegel's big 3-pointer. The Falcons then went on their 9-point run to go up 62-53.
Still, the Hawks rallied on a shot by Jared Davis and Bartlett's fourth 3-pointer of the second half to come within 62-58 with 1:29 remaining, but they then missed a breakaway layup and the Falcons put away the game with free throws.
That failed layup was symbolic of Greenfield's shooting woes, with the Hawks missing 13 layups on the evening.
"We win the game by 10 or 15 if we make our layups," Johnsen said. "That's 26 points left on the board. We also missed 10 free throws, and that was huge."
Bartlett led all scorers with 20 points, with Davis adding 13 points, Reasby 9 and Eric Malone 8 for Greenfield. Herro finished with 15 for the Falcons, with Kegel putting in 14 points, Bzdawka 12 and Tilley 11.
"We did a great job on Tyler," Johnsen said. "We really made him work for everything he did."
Kujawa said his team played some defense as well in holding the Hawks below 70 points for the first time this season.
"We spent the last four days on screens, working on help-side (defense), and we went to a 1-3-1 (zone), which I think really frustrated them because we haven't been doing that the past couple of games," he said. "That sprung a little surprise on them."
The teams return to action at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, with Whitnall playing at Shorewood and Greenfield at Cudahy. The Hawks then take on Green Bay Notre Dame at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, at home.