If Tyler Herro’s knee was slowing him down, it wasn’t easy to tell on his shot.
Herro swished two deep 3-pointers as part of a second-half run that allowed Whitnall to create a separation on powerful Pewaukee that it would never give back. Coupled with a standout showing by senior Kevion Taylor, the Falcons emerged with a 62-58 win over a Pirates team that came in without a loss in the Woodland Conference.
Herro, a University of Wisconsin recruit, missed three games with a small tear in the meniscus of his left knee. He expressed uncertainty whether he would suit up again Saturday against Division 2 state heavyweight Cedarburg, but he expected to play against Pewaukee “no matter what.”
“My first day of practice was yesterday, and we didn’t really know what to expect, but we were kind of ready for anything,” Herro said. “I didn’t know until 5 o’clock that I was ready to go.”
Herro finished with 16 points, and Taylor — playing through foul trouble — finished with a team-best 22.
Aidan Nordquist hit a 3-pointer for Pewaukee (14-2) with 9:10 to play that tied the game at 44-44, a game Whitnall (11-2) had led most of the way.. But Pewaukee never did get that lead back. Herro stole the ball, drove in for a layup to reclaim an advantage and then added the first of his two triples in the home stretch. When he hit his second with 4:40 to play, the Falcons had a 56-48 edge.
Pewaukee got back to within 57-54 with 1:32 on the clock, but Taylor hit all four of his free throws in the final minute to help the Falcons stay in front.
“Coach told me to just stay aggressive,” said Taylor, who incurred his fourth foul with 8:37 left in the game. “I probably went through a little lull (in scoring midway through the year), but I got my confidence back, and I’m being more aggressive.”
Since Herro’s injury first popped up, Taylor has averaged 22.25 points per game, a far cry from the previous three games — all single-digit scoring outputs.
“That’s senior leadership right there,” Whitnall coach Steve Kujawa said. “He was big with the rebounding and putbacks. He’s just a monster down low.”
Second chances were something Pewaukee coach Mike Basile also saw as a key reason why his team’s 13-game winning streak came to an end.
“I thought we did a poor job tonight on the boards, allowing them second and third chances, especially in that first half,” Basile said. “I was really disappointed in our effort.”
The game was an intense battle befitting a playoff contest — and it very well could be a prequel to just such a meeting, as both are among the top teams in their Division 2 regional. They won’t meet again in the regular season.
“All isn’t lost tonight,” Basile said. “We lost to a good team, and there’s some things we need to improve upon if we’re going to beat a team like that. We had a tough stretch, a nice winning streak, and it was a tough month. Our conference is just so tough; it just seems like our (division) is so loaded. We don’t get a chance to rest.”
Whitnall endured all of Pewaukee’s best swings. Junior big man Grant Basile (10 points) scored three straight Pewaukee baskets to open the second half and registered one of his many blocks on defense in that same stretch, but the Falcons had answers to keep the lead. When Jack Gohlke (13 points) scored a trio of 3-pointers in succession in the first half, Whitnall still never trailed by more than a basket and had a 30-24 lead at the break.
“Their starting five is probably the best we’ve played all year,” Herro said. “We got (Grant) Basile fouled out (with 3 minutes left), and after that, they’re putting kids in that maybe aren’t ready for that type of experience.”
Grant Basile was trying to take a steal to the basket when he was whistled for an offensive foul that sent him to the bench for the rest of the game. Wyatt Cook, Pewaukee’s senior post, was hobbled by an ankle injury he sustained early in the game, and Whitnall’s Joe Tilley also fell awkwardly at one point on his own ankle.
Tilley was in the starting lineup, taking the spot usually played by Jonah Bzdawka, who nonetheless came off the bench to contribute 6 points, three boards and big minutes.
“That’s the type of character we have,” Kujawa said. “He was disappointed, but he understood, and what does he do? He comes out there and plays a whale of a game for us. I can’t say enough about the character of these guys. We played against a really strong team. We were very tough down the stretch.”