Ryan Stepanovich estimates he routinely makes 19 out of 20 free throws in practice. Good thing for Pewaukee, he had already gotten that 20th one out of the way.
With 4 seconds on the clock Saturday in a WIAA Division 2 regional final at New Berlin Eisenhower, Stepanovich canned a pair of free throws to tie the score, and Pewaukee found another gear in overtime to emerge with a 50-39 victory over the Lions. The Pirates (17-7) will face Milwaukee Bradley Tech (17-7) at Greenfield on Thursday in the sectional semifinal.
Stepanovich missed the second of two free throws with 21 seconds to go, leaving Eisenhower with a 1-point edge. But after Lions star Reed Timmer split his own set of free throws with 17 seconds to go, the Pirates cashed in on their final possession. Stepanovich and the Pewaukee bench felt he had drawn the contact on his driving layup attempt, which went down, but officials ruled the foul came on the floor.
"I'm usually pretty confident with my free throws," the senior said. "I knew I could make both of them, and I wasn't going to let those last two free throws affect me."
Will Olewinski stole a pass on the first possession of overtime and ultimately hit a 3-pointer from the corner, and Evan Hansen stole a ball at midcourt to lead a transition possession that concluded with an Eric Lutzen 3-point play at the 3:03 mark of OT. The Pirates scored the first 12 points of overtime to put the game out of reach.
"I'm just a big believer when you score first in overtime, the odds are in your favor," Pewaukee coach Mike Basile said. "I don't know offhand, but I truly believe when you score first, I've got to believe (you have the edge)."
It was Olewinski's only basket of the game. On the third possession of the extra session, Parker Brey hit a shot and drew contact, and Hansen rebounded the missed free throw, eventually hitting 1 of 2 from the line himself. Hansen and Lutzen each scored 16 points, with the latter throwing down two thunderous dunks — including one in the final minute of overtime to put an exclamation point on the victory.
"It was unreal, the atmopshere going on at the time," Lutzen said. "We played some good defense and got rebounds that led to some quick fast breaks. It's just a great feeling."
Eisenhower missed 4 of 6 freebies in the final minute of regulation, which short-circuited its comeback from a 6-point deficit in the final 3 minutes. Timmer, a Drake University recruit who entered the night with 2,090 career points, hit just one field goal and closed with 6 points. Pewaukee assigned one player to faceguard Timmer at all times.
"We've seen so many things on Reed," Eisenhower coach Dave Scheidegger said. "Basically over the last 2 to 3 years, teams have started to develop a way to play us, and to be honest, I think it's made our other players that much stronger. It's still a team that wins and loses. We saw a lot of other guys stepping up."
Timmer found the open man regularly, but Eisenhower shot 26 percent from the field and 6 of 13 from the line.
"That senior group; they're just competitors and battlers and never say die," Scheidegger said. "You saw it tonight. A free throw here or there, it's a different headline. When you get to the tournament, you know one or two games are going to be won at the free-throw line; that's just the way it is. This one was there for us and it didn't turn out that way."
Timmer scored 24 points when the two teams met Feb. 19, but Pewaukee won, 67-47. Still, the Lions were the top seed, with Pewaukee slotted No. 2 in the regional.
"He's really talented," Stepanovich said of Timmer. "He's one of the top scoreers in the state in all divisions, so he's always going to get his points. We just have to make adjustmnets and make him pass to his other guys and make his teammates beat us."
Pewaukee committed eight first-half turnovers and shot 33 percent from the field in the first 16 minutes but led at the break, 18-14.
"I just don't think there were a lot of open looks tonight," Basile said. "Nothing came easy. It was a typical Eisenhower-Pewaukee battle."
Bennett Kohlhardt scored 12 points to lead Eisenhower, and Brett Hanson finished with 9.
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