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Feb. 14: La Crosse Central vs. Onalaska

Central's David Hayden drives to the basket around Onalaska's Sam Kick in the first half.

ONALASKA — The Central High School boys basketball team made plays when it had to on its way to winning a share of the MVC championship on Thursday.

The second-ranked Red Raiders overcame a dreadful end of the first half with a solid second, and held off a push from fifth-ranked Onalaska late to emerge from Charles Deeth Fieldhouse with a 62-52 victory.

Junior Johnny Davis had 27 points and 14 rebounds for Central (16-2, 10-0), which leads second-place Onalaska (16-4, 9-2) by a game-and-a-half with two to play. The Hilltoppers have just one game left and need the Red Raiders to lose the last two for a chance at the tie.

Carson Arenz had 16 points for Onalaska, which trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half before getting within five points twice and four points once down the stretch.

“We had to come together and play better as a team in the second half because we didn’t in the first half,” Johnny Davis said. “We had to come out and shoot the ball better in the second, too.”

The Red Raiders made 3 of 9 free throws in the first half and 16 of 16 in the second. They made 8 of 30 shots (26.7 percent) in the first half and 12 of 28 (42.9 percent) in the second.

The Hilltoppers got the closest when Dakota Mannel made a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 52-48 with 3 minutes, 23 seconds left. The Red Raiders missed at the other end, but Jordan Davis was there for the offensive rebound and putback to keep his team in control.

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“That was a huge play,” Johnny Davis said of his brother’s basket. “They had just hit a 3 and had momentum. We missed the first shot but he was there to help stop that momentum.”

Johnny Davis made six free throws in the final 1:08 to help Central hold on for the win.

Central played with the lead just twice in the first half and had its biggest advantage at 17-11 when Johnny Davis converted a pass from Noah Parcher into a three-point play with 8:35 on the clock.

The Hilltoppers came back behind Arenz, who hit a 3 from the left corner and turned an offensive rebound into a basket on the ensuing possession.

The Red Raiders went back ahead at 20-18 when Johnny Davis drilled a 3-pointer with a little more than 6 minutes to go, and the Hilltoppers held them scoreless the rest of the way. Central missed its last 13 shots from the floor and all five free throws it attempted before the end of the half.

Taking the lead to the half had to be encouraging to the Hilltoppers after Stuttley picked up his second foul 4:27 into the game. Stuttley returned several minutes later and played with control the rest of the half, and Onalaska took its 25-20 halftime lead when Victor Desmond hit a 3-pointer from the right corner with 1:49 to go.

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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.