This Elkhorn boys basketball team won’t be remembered for being overly athletic or physically superior compared to most teams.
Instead, the understated Elks displayed that recognizable intangible that every underdog team has during an improbable postseason run.
Unfortunately for the Elks, the Cinderella train was finally derailed in the final 10 minutes of a WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal game against Westosha Central.
The Falcons unleashed an 18-3 run over the final 10 minutes, erasing a 12-point deficit and eventually finishing off the Elks with a 46-41 victory in at Burlington High.
With the victory, Westosha Central advances to face Monona Grove on Saturday in a sectional final game at Oregon.
Elkhorn finished with a 17-8 overall record.
“It was great the way we came together and played some good basketball, but it’s very disappointing to lose,” Elkhorn coach Josh Skatrud said. “It doesn’t take away one bit from what we accomplished.”
The Elks’ playoff journey, which included victories over Wilmot and top-seeded Union Grove, had all the signs of continuing on to Saturday and a chance to play for a trip to the Kohl Center.
After the Falcons opened the second half with a 9-2 run to close the Elks’ lead to 27-23, junior guard Vince Umnus responded with a pair of layups, including bouncing off a defender and converting an acrobatic bucket and foul to help rebuild the lead to 36-24.
Umnus had a team-high 11 points, while Quinlan McDonald had 10 to lead a balanced scoring attack.
The shell-shocked Falcons, who were out-of-sync for most of the game against the Elks defense, got a much-needed boost from senior Joey Gilliland’s consecutive 3-pointers that cut the deficit to 38-34 with six minutes to play.
“Those 3s were huge,” Westosha senior forward Cooper Brinkman said. “Those threes were more than six points to us, because just the feeling of back-to-back 3s got us fired up on the defensive end, and we played better defense after that.”
The Falcons defense indeed was better at the most important time, holding the Elks to just three points in the final six minutes of the game.
“They picked up their defense a little bit and caught us by surprise,” Vince Umnus said. “If we were able to weather that storm and not turn the ball over as much as we did, I think we’d be playing Saturday.”
Prospects for Saturday continued to slip away for the Elks as Westosha scored eight of the next nine points, capped by Jaeden Zachery’s corkscrew layup between two Elks defenders. That made it 42-39 with a minute left.
The Elks had two chances to tie the game, but McDonald’s offensive foul gave the Falcons the ball with 28 seconds left.
Zackery then sank four free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
“We had a tough time getting into anything, and a credit to them because their defense got to us,” Skatrud said. “Our kids played hard, but ultimately playoff basketball is about scoring in the half court and we just couldn’t do it.”
WESTOSHA 46, ELKHORN 41
Elkhorn (41)—Larson, 3-0-7; L. Umnus, 0-3-3; Davey, 3-0-7; McDonald, 5-0-10; V. Umnus, 4-3-11; Hergott, 0-3-3. Totals: 15-9-41.
Westosha (46)—Zackery, 3-6-13; Frederick, 1-3-5; Anderson, 5-0-11; Brinkman, 4-3-11; Gilliland, 2-0-6. Totals: 15-12-46.
Elkhorn 25 16—41
Westosha Central 14 32—46
3-point goals—Elkhorn 2 (Larson, Davey), Westosha Central 4 (Anderson, Zackery, Gilliand 2). Free throws missed—Elkhorn 5 Westosha Central 5. Total fouls—Elkhorn 21, Westosha Central 13. Fouled out—Larson.