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March 15: La Crosse Central vs. Milwaukee Washington

Central senior Noah Parcher (22) scrambles for a loose ball Friday in a WIAA Divsion 2 state semifinal game at the Kohl Center in Madison. Central led by 14 in the second half, but it fell 72-71 in overtime.

MADISON — They were 25 seconds owned by Michael Foster Jr., and what the Milwaukee Washington High School sophomore did during them ended Central’s season on Friday.

Foster made two big shots in overtime — one a 3-pointer, the other a mid-range jumper — and blocked an attempt by Central at the other end in between to help the Purgolders come away with a 72-71 WIAA Division 2 semifinal victory over the Red Raiders at the Kohl Center.

Foster’s late heroics were the final contributions to a second-half comeback that put Washington (22-5) in Saturday’s championship game for the second year in a row.

“It’s going to take a few weeks to get over this one,” Central junior Terrance Thompson said. “It’s really hard right now.”

It will be tough because the Red Raiders (24-3) led by as many as 14 points in the second half and were up 71-67 after a three-point play by senior David Hayden with 32 seconds left.

That’s when Foster took over.

He drilled a 3-pointer — his first of the game — to get the Purgolders within one with 25 seconds left. Foster then blocked a shot by Hayden on the next possession before racing out in front the of play as teammate Cruz Valeriano grabbed the rebound.

The ball ended up back in Foster’s hands, and he made another jump shot over the reach of Thompson for the tying and winning points.

“I’m down, clapping my feet, like I’m ready,” Foster said of his final shot. “Give it to me. Trust me, I’m going to knock it down. I knew it was good when it left my hands.”

The Red Raiders, who won the Division 2 championship in 2017 and played in their fourth straight state tournament, set up a final shot, but a 3-point attempt by Johnny Davis was off the mark as the buzzer sounded.

“We wanted to get him to the basket,” Central senior Noah Parcher said of Davis on the final possession. “We were looking for a curl to get him around the defender, but he had to shoot the 3, and it just didn’t fall.”

Davis had 31 points and eight rebounds in a game filled with runs that was capped by a crazy overtime. The momentum was clearly on the side of the Red Raiders when Thompson rebounded a missed shot to set up Hayden’s three-point play.

Thompson gave the ball to Davis in the corner, and he fired a court-length pass to Hayden, who finished and was fouled by Chani Clay Jr. Hayden’s free throw bounced high off the rim before falling through to give Central its biggest lead of overtime.

“That team is good enough to be playing (Saturday) night,” Washington coach Fred Riley said of Central. “They really are. They are that good to be playing (Saturday) night.

“But I thought at the end of the day we have some guys that set a goal last year, and they weren’t going to let nothing stand in the way of them accomplishing that and getting back to (the championship game).”

The Purgolders play top-ranked and top-seeded Nicolet (26-1), which beat Elkhorn 70-46 in the first semifinal, in the 6:35 p.m. title game.

The Red Raiders played well defensively, especially early. Washington’s top three scorers — Foster, Deontay Long and Tre White — combine to score an average of 58 points per game, and they combined for 10 on 4-for-14 shooting in the first half.

“We wanted them to make some (perimeter) shots,” said Thompson, who had eight points and 10 rebounds. “We had to defend in the paint, but they did an outstanding job of hitting shots.”

Clay and Johntae Martin took advantage of the open looks. Martin made three 3s in the first half and wound up with 15 points, and Clay hit four in the second and added 12 after not even playing in the first half.

Parcher had 16 points and Hayden 12 for Central, which gradually lost its 14-point lead in the second half and fell behind for the first time in the game when a Clay 3-pointer gave Washington a 58-57 lead with 4:18 left.

The Purgolders went up 63-61 on a free throw by Valeriano with 10 seconds left, but Davis forced overtime when he was fouled on a drive and hit two free throws with 4 seconds on the clock.

“I always have confidence in what Johnny is doing,” Parcher said. “I knew he’d make those shots. Then all we needed was a stop and good overtime, but we couldn’t finish it.”


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Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at todd.sommerfeldt@lee.net and on Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX.

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Assistant Sports Editor

Todd Sommerfeldt has covered sports for the La Crosse Tribune since 2003 after doing the same previously in the Fox Cities and Rock County.