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A nail-biting 67-65 overtime victory for the West Allis Central boys basketball team over West Allis Hale on Jan. 22 kept the Bulldogs surging and the Huskies searching.

Central won its fourth game in six tries in 2016 to improve to 3-4 in the Greater Metro Conference and 7-8 overall, while Hale lost its fifth in six attempts to drop to 3-4 in the GMC and 8-6 overall.

"The last three games we've been playing well," Central coach Dave Mlachnik said. "We had a bad half against Tosa East, and they took advantage of it (in a 62-53 loss), but now this is 31/2 games of really good basketball that we're starting to play."

Hale coach John Palesse, whose team started the season 6-0, said his team is reaching a crossroads.

"We have our choice to make," Palesse said. "If we learn from it, we can have a successful second half; if we don't learn from it, we're going to be losing these close games."

Above, in photos: Brandon Barr of West Allis Nathan Hale finds himself sandwiched between West Allis Central' s Tony Thomas (left) and Griffin Johnson in the second half of the host Huskiesâ 67-65 overtime loss Friday. Photo by Dave Haberkorn.

Game was close

The game was tight from start to finish, with 10 lead changes and seven ties. The largest spread all evening was 8 points, held by the Huskies on several occasions.

Hale's Ryan Haertel, who finished with 16 points, nailed a 3-point field goal early in the second half to give his team one of those 8-point margins at 46-38.

The Bulldogs answered with a 10-1 run sparked by a 3-pointer from Paysharne Jelks and a pair of baskets by Montae Blakely, including a short shot in the lane that gave Central a 48-47 advantage.

Hale was in the midst of a cold stretch in which it went several minutes without a field goal, managing only four free throws.

"We went through a stretch where we just didn't shoot good shots," Palesse said.

Central was still up 52-50 with three minutes left when Hale's Casey Farner broke his team's drought with a 3-pointer off a pass from Devonte Patterson for a 53-52 lead.

Central's Kurt Mlachnik responded with his own 3-point shot, putting the Bulldogs ahead 55-53. Geo Owens then hit two driving shots in the lane to keep Central ahead 59-56 with 1:46 remaining.

Haertel netted a 3-point shot to tie the game; then Deveron Hierrezuelo connected on a driving basket to put Central up 61-59 with just under one minute left.

Patterson, who led all scorers with 24 points, dropped his fourth 3-pointer of the night to give Hale a 62-61 lead with 40 seconds left. Tony Thomas hit a free throw for Central with nine seconds left for a 62-62 tie, forcing overtime.

Blakely hits clutch shots

The Bulldogs trailed 64-63 when Blakely hit a shot from the lane — the lone field goal of the overtime — and then hit two free throws for a 67-64 advantage.

Rich Haertel netted one free throw for the Huskies with 29.8 seconds left. Central then missed three free throws, but a long 3-pointer by Hale was off at the buzzer.

"We didn't play our best basketball," coach Mlachnik said, "but the biggest thing is they (the players) stuck together. Early in the season, we would make some turnovers, and the guys would start complaining about each other and stop playing defense. (Against Hale), the guys stuck with it, and they stuck with the team."

The Bulldogs had balanced scoring, with Owens tallying 13 points off the bench; Jelks and Mlachnik each 12 points; Thomas 11 points; and Blakely 8 points, including some crucial ones.

For the Huskies, Rich Haertel added 12 points and Farner 7 points.

Patterson tallied 16 first-half points to help the Huskies to a 34-28 halftime advantage but was held in check in the second half.

"We talked about that we have to stay in (Patterson's) sight," coach Mlachnik said. "He's a great scorer, and in the first half, he was getting to his spots. We said at halftime, don't let him get to those spots. You've got to work and push him out a little bit further, and I thought we did a better job in the second half with that."

Free throws hurt Hale

Hale coach Palesse found two key factors in the defeat.

"I look at our free throws (12 of 24)," he said. "That's the story of the game right there. We make three or four more free throws ... normally, we're a good free-throw shooting team, but tonight we weren't. Also, some 50-50 balls; they got them, we didn't."

Central plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29, at Brookfield East, and meets Brookfield Central at 7:30 Tuesday, Feb. 2, at home.

The Huskies take on Menomonee Falls at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at home and play again at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Sussex Hamilton.

CENTRAL TOPS PIUS XI

The Central boys downed Pius XI, 59-46, on Jan. 19 in a nonconference contest.

LEADING SCORERS: Geo Owens and Paysharne Jelks each totaled 11 points, with Jelks adding six steals, five rebounds and four assists; Montae Blakely 9 points; and Deveron Hierrezuelo, Griffin Johnson and Jared Welsch each 6 points.

DEFENSE SOLID: The Popes were up 30-24 at the half, but Central held them without a field goal for the first eight minutes of the second half.