WIAA boys basketball: Onalaska Luther turns up defense in second half to beat La Crosse Aquinas in D4 sectional semifinal

WIAA boys basketball: Onalaska Luther turns up defense in second half to beat La Crosse Aquinas in D4 sectional semifinal

Onalaska Luther vs. La Crosse Aquinas

Onalaska Luther's Lyndon Byus plays tight defense against Joseph Savoldelli of La Crosse Aquinas during Wednesday night's game played at Wanek Arena in Arcadia. Luther went on to defeat Aquinas 45-29.

ARCADIA — After a home loss to Bangor on Jan. 6, the Onalaska Luther High School boys basketball team held a 1-7 record.

Now, the Knights are one win away from the state tournament.

Luther fed off an energetic crowd and clamped down defensively in the second half as the Knights toppled Aquinas 45-29 in a WIAA Division 4 sectional semifinal Wednesday night inside the Wanek Center at Arcadia High School.

Luther (15-11) advances to Saturday’s sectional final, slated for 7 p.m. at Eau Claire Memorial, against the winner of Thursday’s contest between Unity and Cameron.

The fourth-seeded Knights held the seventh-seeded Blugolds (9-17) to 10 points in the second half after trailing 19-18 at halftime. Luther struggled from the field (8-of-25) before half, and 6-foot-7 junior Isaiah Loersch, the Knights’ leading scorer, spent a good portion of the first half on the bench after picking up his second foul just 2½ minutes into the game.

“These guys have been through a lot, and the foul situation isn’t new to us,” said Luther coach Brad Schaper. “Isaiah Loersch unfortunately gets in some foul trouble, and he did a really nice job of managing his fouls tonight. He played hard.”

Aquinas sophomore Will Skemp hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute of the first half to give the Blugolds their first lead since the opening points of the game, but the Knights cranked up the intensity on defense after halftime.

After Aquinas took a 25-23 lead with 13 minutes, 12 seconds remaining, the Blugolds missed their next 10 field-goal attempts over an 8:41 stretch in which Luther took and built a 35-25 lead before a free throw by junior Joseph Savoldelli snapped the scoring skid.

“We generated some of the looks we wanted, and they didn’t go early,” said Aquinas coach Brad Reinhart. “There were a couple of key bursts by (Luther) that really made a difference.”

With Loersch (six points) and senior Joey McNamara (three points) struggling to get going offensively for the Knights, players such as senior Brandon Stadtler (11 points) and freshman Isaiah Schwichtenberg (10 points) stepped up to help shoulder the scoring load.

In addition to leading all players in scoring, Stadtler was also tasked with shutting down the Blugolds' leading scorer, Quinn Miskowski, and helped hold the 5-foot-10 sophomore to just four points.

“It’s our fourth playoff game that we’ve put Brandon on the other team’s best kid, and that kid has responded like there’s no tomorrow,” Schaper said of Stadtler. “For Isaiah Schwichtenberg to step up in front of this crowd and make plays, I’m really proud of the way he played.”

Luther pressured Aquinas the full length of the court for stretches, helping force the Blugolds into 11 second-half turnovers.

“That’s just how we’ve been playing,” Stadtler said of the Knights’ defense. “I’m happy that our team is able to do that, and our defense keeps getting better and better.”

The rotation players for Aquinas saw more minutes than usual after an injury to sophomore Chris Wilson in Saturday’s win over Fall Creek left the Blugolds down a key contributor.

“When it was time to answer, we didn’t have a lot left in the tank,” Reinhart said. “Having a shallower rotation tonight kind of caught up with us in the end, and our kids gave us everything they had.”

Reinhart said that winning three playoff games as a No. 7 seed after just six regular-season wins proved how far the Blugolds had come as a team this season.

“There was no quit in them come playoff time,” Reinhart said. “They believed that we belonged on the court with everyone we went up against, and they showed that they did.”

With three sophomores and two freshmen among the top eight contributors for Aquinas, Reinhart said that, despite the graduation of Gavin Wetzel, there’s a lot to look forward to for the Blugolds.

“There’s a really really bright future for the program and for the team of guys we have now,” Reinhart said. “It will look much the same, but we’ll have a gaping hole with Gavin and everything he gives us.”

In the immediate for the Knights, Saturday provides a chance for Luther to punch its first ever ticket to the WIAA state tournament.

“It’s kind of unreal,” Stadtler said of the anticipation for the sectional final. “It’s pretty special, and we’re looking forward to it.”


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