Mitch Brault gave himself a second chance, then made the most of it.
The Whitnall senior guard missed two free throws, leaving his team ahead of South Milwaukee by just one point with 15.7 seconds left in a WIAA Division 2 regional semifinal contest on Friday night.
Brault, though, alertly snared his own rebound and was fouled again with 11.8 seconds on the clock.
This time, he connected on both shots for a 48-45 lead, and when the Rockets turned the ball over while looking for a 3-point opportunity, the Falcons had a hard-fought victory.
Whitnall meets Tech
Whitnall improved to 11-12 on the season and advanced to face Bradley Tech (16-7) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Tech in a regional title game. Tech downed Bay View, 53-46, in its semifinal Friday.
South Milwaukee finished the campaign at 8-14, with losses of seven, five and three points to Whitnall.
"You've got to give a lot of credit to South Milwaukee," Whitnall head coach Steve Kujawa said. "It's tough to beat a team three times in a row; you know each others' tendencies. It was a grind, but that's how they play, a very physical type of style."
Friday's game went right down to the final seconds. The Rockets, who had trailed by as many as seven points in the second half, took a 42-40 lead on a basket by J.P. Saskowski.
Whitnall's Jon Drew scored to tie the game at 42-42 with 1 minute, 19 seconds left, but Justin Oliden put the Rockets ahead again when he hit a free throw with 1:16 remaining.
Nate Schaefer, who tallied 13 of his 18 points in the second half, hit a short jumper in the lane to put Whitnall up 44-43 with one minute left.
Drew then helped force a turnover on South Milwaukee's next possession.
"It was a designed play," South Milwaukee head coach John Riggins said. "If they (the Falcons) deny, we cut backdoor. The pass was delivered, but we fumbled the ball. That was the story of the game."
Brault netted two free throws with 44.4 seconds left, but the Rockets' Saskowski answered to trim it to 46-45.
With 15.7 seconds remaining, Brault had the missed free throws but came up with his big offensive rebound and followup free throws four seconds later.
Brault makes big play
"The second (missed) free throw, I thought it was in," Brault said, "but then once it came right back to me, and they (the Rockets) didn't box out, I just went straight up and got it.
"I was fouled, and the second time, I knew I had those (free throws). I knew that we were going to win the game at that point."
Riggins said, "We didn't box out the shooter. It's little things like that; you can't win close games that way."
Down by three points, the Rockets worked the perimeter for a 3-point shot but once again turned over the ball. The Falcons picked up the loose ball and ran out the clock.
"It was our seniors down the stretch," Kujawa said. "Nate drains a nice little 10-footer with a minute left, Drew makes a defensive stop and then Mitch missed two free throws, but what does he do? He doesn't hold his head down; he gets the rebound and hits two shots."
The game was close throughout. The teams were tied at 10-10 after one quarter, then Whitnall used a closing 6-1 run for a 25-19 lead at the half.
Schaefer tallied eight of his team's 10 third-period points as the Falcons held a 35-28 advantage going into the fourth.
Goodnews Osunkwo came up with a three-point play on a basket in the lane as the Rockets tied it at 37-37 early in the final period.
Oliden hit a free throw to put South Milwaukee ahead 40-37, then Schaefer connected on three free throws to tie it at 40, setting up the frantic final minutes.
"(In the second half), we tried to get a little penetration, tried to be more patient," Kujawa said. "You've got to take what they (the Rockets) give you, and that's what we did. We played very composed down the stretch."
Riggins praises team
Riggins said, "We showed a lot of heart, battling back from seven down, taking the lead, having opportunities. I feel badly for the kids; they battled."
Brault collected 14 points for the game, and he and Schaefer combined for 21 of Whitnall's 23 second-half points.
For South Milwaukee, Matthew McCarty tallied 13 points, Osunkwo 11 and Saskowski 10.
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