Expectations were not high this season for Elkhorn Area High’s boys basketball team.
The Elks lost four starters from last year’s 15-8 team, including all-Southern Lakes first-team selection Alex Easterday.
Josh Skatrud, however, wasn’t ready to write off the 2017-18 season. The fourth-year head coach thought the Elks had enough talent waiting in the wings to be very competitive.
Turns out the coach was right.
Elkhorn won its first regional title since 2009 and takes a 17-7 record into Thursday night’s WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal game against Southern Lakes rival Westosha Central. The game is set for 7 p.m. at Burlington High.
The Elks are one of two area teams remaining. Second-seeded Edgerton (19-5) plays top-seeded Platteville (19-5) in a Division 3 sectional semifinal game Thursday at Oregon.
For Elkhorn, it has truly been a team effort getting to this point. Five players are averaging seven or more points per game. Twins Luke and Vince Umnus lead the way with 12.5 and 10.2 scoring averages, respectively.
“I love that we’re like that,” Skatrud said of the balanced scoring. “We have a number of kids capable of having a good night scoring-wise, and that makes us tougher to defend.
“It’s so much fun to coach a team like this because they’re all so unselfish and not worried about who’s doing all the scoring. They play hard and do things the right way.”
Skatrud said the turning point of the season came Jan. 19 when Elkhorn lost its third straight game—a 51-24 setback to Burlington.
The Elks have won 10 of 11 games since then.
“I came into the locker room after the Burlington loss, picked up the videotape from the game and threw it against the wall,” Skatrud said. “We were 7-for-41 shooting that night, and I just told the kids to forget about it and to move on.”
Elkhorn and Westosha split during the regular season. The Falcons won by 17 at home before the Elks turned the table and won 60-57 on their home court late in the regular season.
“They’re a very good team,” Skatrud said of Westosha. “Quite a few starters are back from the team that went to the sectional finals last year.
“Defensively, they really get after you and can create a lot of turnovers with their pressure. We’ve just got to handle it and not let them dictate the flow of the game.”
Edgerton in search of state
It has been 77 years since the Edgerton High boys basketball team played at state and over 100 years since the Crimson Tide won a game at the state tournament.
Will the drought end this weekend?
Edgerton is two wins away from the Kohl Center and a state berth and can move one step closer Thursday night with a win over top-seeded Platteville.
The Hillmen won the Southwest Conference title, and Edgerton coach Daryl Fox sees several similarities between the teams.
“They like to shoot the 3 like we do, but they’ll also work it inside and have a really nice post player in (Connor) Riley,” Fox said. “Riley is about 6-foot-3 and very athletic and is going to play football at Wisconsin.
“We’ve got to be able to not let their full-court pressure bother us and try to take them out of their comfort zone. We took Lodi out of their game plan last Saturday by forcing them to shoot from the outside.”
Edgerton, led by Jacob Fox, has been dialed in from beyond the arc in its first two tournament games. The Tide have 19 3s, including 11 from the first-team all-Rock Valley selection Fox.
Coach Fox believes Edgerton’s tough regular-season schedule prepared his team for the postseason.
“There has been no panic with this team all season long,” coach Fox said. “And I think a lot of that has to do with all the close games we played this season.
“It’s so hard to get to this level (sectionals) because there are so many good teams. Our defense has been great all season, and now the offense has really come around, too.”
Thursday’s sectional semifinal winners will play Saturday with a trip to state on the line.
John Barry is a sports writer for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org