ONALASKA — The Onalaska High School boys basketball team missed its first three shots against Holmen on Friday night. But after Dakota Mannel hit a 3-pointer from right of the top of the key, the Hilltoppers were humming on offense.
Carson Arenz made a triple from the left wing, and then he buried another. Evan Gamoke connected from deep before Arenz hit a baseline floater and Tyrell Stuttley made back-to-back buckets.
By the time Sam Kick hit a pair of free throws, Onalaska had scored 24 of the game’s first 28 points, and the top-seeded Hilltoppers rolled to a 65-34 win over the eighth-seeded Vikings in a WIAA Division 2 regional semifinal at Charles Deeth Fieldhouse.
“I thought we were pretty good in the first half, shot it pretty well (from 3),” said Onalaska coach Craig Kowal, whose team improved to 22-1. “Second half we didn’t make any. But the first half, the way they were guarding us, they were forcing us to make shots.”
The Hilltoppers had no trouble doing so. Arenz led the charge with a game-high 15 points, including three first-half 3s. Mannel added 13, including a pair of 3s, and Stuttley had 12.
“We were getting open looks doubles, flares,” Arenz said. “We were just finding each other wide open in the corners.”
“We just had to get off to a good start tonight,” Mannel added. “Keep the tempo on them, don’t let them do their slow type of game.”
Applying pressure defensively was key in that, too. Onalaska held the Vikings (8-16) to 13 first-half points, and routinely turned that defense into offense.
Arenz knocked down a 3 from the left wing after a steal, and Mannel had a nice finish at the rim after going coast to coast in transition to extend the Hilltoppers’ lead to 35-9 with 4 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first half.
Stuttley, meanwhile, did a lot of his damage from the free-throw line and helped get a number of Vikings in foul trouble, including Ben Olson, Max Hammond and Ryland Wall. Stuttley was 6-of-7 from the charity strip and had 10 of his points in the first half.
Onalaska led 40-13 at half and built on that advantage early in the second half. Mannel hit a 3 from the left corner and had a bucket in transition before dishes out a number of assists. The senior hit Victor Desmond with an outlet pass in transition for a layup that pushed the Hilltoppers’ lead to 51-19 with 13:04 to play.
“(Mannel) does whatever we need,” Arenz said. “He’s a good passer, he can step out and shoot once in awhile or take it to the hoop.”
Hammond paced Holmen with eight points, and Caleb Matl added seven.
Onalaska will host fifth-seeded River Falls (18-5) in the regional final at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Wildcats beat fourth-seeded Tomah 66-54 on Friday and pushed the Hilltoppers in last year’s regional final, which Onalaska won 54-46.
Zac Johnson, who entered Friday night averaging 21.6 points per game, is River Falls leading scorer. The Wildcats also boast a pair of 6-foot-9 forwards in Liam and JT Dougherty.
“They’re really big, and they’ve got a really good guard — Zac Johnson,” Kowal said. “They run a very, very good motion offense.
“We know it’s going to be a tough contest for us, but I think our guys will be ready.”
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