Craig High boys dazzle eighth-ranked Burlington
That’s because Johnson himself didn’t see his team coming back from 12 straight Big Eight Conference losses and hoisting a WIAA Division 1 regional championship trophy.
But that’s exactly what Craig High has done.
Cody Dare piled up 24 points, while Johnson added 15 to lead the gritty Cougars to an impressive 80-69 victory over top-seeded and eighth-ranked Burlington (20-3) in the regional title game here Saturday afternoon.
Craig (8-16), which has become the quintessential playoff sleeper team, moves on to the sectional semifinals against Kenosha Bradford (19-4) at 6 p.m. Thursday at Kenosha Tremper.
“We feel that we’re well prepared for the playoffs coming out of conference season,” Craig coach Mike Miller said. “I knew Burlington was a good team, but I also knew we could play with them, and our seniors had a great effort, and they just want to keep playing.”
Confidence is one thing, but predicting a regional championship is another.
“When we were in the middle of our losing streak, we were just thinking of taking it game-by-game and nothing else,” Johnson said. “We had a nice stretch of homes games at the end of the season that was a big confidence-builder for us going into the tournament.”
The Cougars’ confidence was on display from the opening tip against the Demons, who previously had lost only to fifth-ranked Racine Case (64-62) and Waukesha West.
Peter Cooney’s baseline three-pointer, coupled with Nate Brault’s layup gave Craig a 14-8 late in the first quarter.
After Burlington cut the deficit to 16-15 by the end of the quarter, the Cougars took control with a 21-12 second-quarter burst and led 37-27 at halftime. Dare and Johnson led the charge with 15 of the team’s second-quarter points.
Craig never let from there.
Brault’s steal at midcourt and layup gave his team its biggest lead 46-31 with four minutes left in the third quarter.
The Demons cut the lead to 48-41 later in the quarter on Travis Crayton’s four-point play. But even Crayton’s 34-point game wasn’t enough to save Burlington.
With the crowd sensing a comeback, Dare quickly answered with a three-pointer to help the Cougars rebuild a 55-43 lead by the end of the quarter.
“Dare’s shot was huge,” Miller said. “Crayton’s four-point play got the crowd back involved in it, and I was just trying to get our kids not to get down, so it was huge to have an answer.”
Burlington never had an answer the rest of the way and watched Craig sink 19 fourth-quarter free throws to put the finishing touches on the victory.
“We're going to keep on battling and play tough in the sectionals,” Johnson said. “We're not giving up.”
CRAIG 80, BURLINGTON 69
Craig (80) - Johnson, 4-7-15; Dare, 7-8-24; Pickarts, 5-0-12; Wright, 1-5-7; Sarow, 5-2-12; Brault, 2-3-7; Cooney, 1-0-3; . Totals: 25-25-80.
Burlington (69) - Robers, 7-3-19; Crayton, 11-8-34; Chavarria, 4-0-8; Gerber, 3-0-6; Peterson, 1-0-2. Totals: 26-11-69.
Janesville Craig 16 21 18 25 - 80
Burlington 15 12 16 26 - 69
Three-point goals—Craig 5 (Dare 2, Pickarts 2, Cooney), Burlington 6 (Rober 2, Crayton 4). Free throws missed—Craig 7, Burlington 7. Total fouls—Craig 17, Burlington 28. Fouled out—Peterson, Gerber, Crayton, Chavarria.
Last updated: 4:48 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012