Schlundt beats buzzer, lifts OHS in playoffs
Down 17, Raccoons stage regional rally
The shot came from three steps beyond the 3-point arc, but when T.J. Schlundt let the basketball go, there wasn't much sign of doubt in his body language, nor was there much surprise when it swished through.
"Didn't Vince Lombardi say, 'When you get to the end zone, act like you've been there?'" Schlundt asked with a smile.
Lombardi would have been entertained by Oconomowoc's dramatic performance Tuesday in Verona, when the Raccoons battled back from a 17-point deficit in the second half to stun the host Wildcats in the opening round of the WIAA Division 1 boys playoffs, 76-73. Schlundt's triple with 1.8 seconds to play broke a tie and gave ninth-seeded Cooney a date with top seed Sun Prairie on Friday.
"That's a gutsy win," Cooney coach Kurt Melton said. "You're down 15, you go into halftime and you sell to your kids that we can win this game. That's a tough sell for 17 or 18 year olds, and these kids bought it."
Very little about the first half suggested Oconomowoc (9-14) would live to see another day. After Nick Pierce tied the game at 16-16 with a basket at the 6:10 mark of the second quarter, the Raccoons would not record another field goal before halftime, and Verona closed on an 18-3 run to take a 34-19 lead at the break. After the Wildcats scored the first bucket of the second half, the lead looked insurmountable.
"A lot of our guys have really good mental toughness," said senior Aaron Cramer, whose basket triggered a quick 7-0 run that began the slow comeback and whose late free throws proved huge. "Being down 15, that's pretty nerve-racking, but you just put that aside and play your game. They were pretty quick and they scored easy transition baskets when we weren't hustling."
Tyler Enright floated in a deep 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to pull the Raccoons within 53-47, and Schlundt scored 12 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter. His 3-pointer pulled Cooney within 64-63, and Canton Larson's runner in the lane with 2:11 to play gave OHS its first lead of the night, 65-64.
Verona responded immediately with a basket, but Pierce hit a shot and Mitch Pauers canned a pair of free throws to give OHS a 3-point lead. Verona never went down by more than a possession, and when Andrew Argall hit two free throws with 11.9 seconds left to tie the game at 73-73, Oconomowoc didn't have a time out left.
"We know whose hands we want the ball in," Melton said. "We liked the matchup and wanted to get everybody flat and let him work. The way they're defending a lot of our stuff, that was our best option."
Pauers took the inbound, handed it to Schlundt just across midcourt, and the junior waited for his moment to come.
"He kind of had his hands down and I went to my go-to shot," Schlundt said. "I shot it with confidence."
Cramer hit 3 of 4 free throws in the final minute, part of Oconomowoc's 13 for 16 effort from the charity stripe in thefinal period. The Raccoons also missed only one shot from the field in the fourth, going 7 of 8.
"The contributions we got from the bench were outstanding," Melton said, pointing to Pierce, Nate Nord and Danny Duffy, who all contributed points in the fourth quarter. "You can't overlook that stuff. It's going to come down to T.J.'s three at the end, but we're not there without those kids coming off the bench."
Verona wasn't struggling to score. Kellerman hit a trio of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, splashing shots through from his high-arc delivery, and the Wildcats answered almost every Cooney basket. But Verona didn't have a chance to answer the last one, with a full-court baseball pass intercepted.
"That was the best game I've ever been associated with as a coach," Melton said.
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