West Allis - Beating a basketball team as good as Milwaukee King is tough enough for a team with all its best players on the floor, but the West Allis Central boys almost did it without some of their top performers.
Perennial power and top-seeded King and third-seeded Central played a WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal game on March 8 that certainly lived up to its billing, with the Generals edging the Bulldogs, 75-71, in a contest that featured 12 lead changes.
With King clinging to a 40-38 lead two minutes into the third quarter, Central standouts Jarvis Garrett and Najeal McMillian both picked up their fourth fouls.
The Bulldogs bit back, though, as Darvell Brown drained 3-point field goals on three consecutive possessions to give Central a 51-44 lead. Minutes later, Brown also picked up his fourth foul.
That meant with more than a quarter left to play, Central head coach David Mlachnik had no choice but to put three of his best players - and on this night, his three top scorers - on the bench.
"All I can say is that I'm incredibly proud of our kids and the way they played," Mlachnik said. "It's been like this all season. I take someone out, and someone else comes in and they do what they need to do. You can say the star players came out of the game, but after two of them went out, we had a seven-point lead."
Change of momentum
King forward Chris Stovall scored the game's next six points, then guard Nic Stokes hit a jumper and 3-pointer on the next two possessions. The Generals grabbed a seven-point lead of their own heading into the fourth and built their biggest advantage of the night at 68-55 with just under five minutes to play.
Central, as it has throughout this season, rallied late. Brown returned to the floor, followed by McMillian and Garrett a few minutes later, and the Bulldogs charged to make it interesting. The trio scored Central's next 13 points to pull within 70-69 with under two minutes to play.
"We were right there," Mlachnik said.
King's Austin Malone-Mitchell, who led the Generals with 15 points, hit three clutch free throws on consecutive possessions to build a 73-69 lead. McMillian responded to pull Central within two with a putback.
The basket would be the last of his high school career, and the last of the Bulldogs' season, before he fouled out seconds later.
Central was forced to resort to fouling. King sophomore Jamell Posey iced the victory with two clutch shots from the charity stripe, giving his team the decisive four-point edge with seven seconds left.
"I wasn't nervous at all," Posey said. "It's the same kind of situation I've been in before. I was trying to stay calm and hit the shots.
"I didn't think about the nerves. I just wanted to go out there and not let our seniors down, and that's what I did."
King advanced to the state tournament on Saturday with a 71-59 triumph over Racine Park. The Generals (23-1) will face Oshkosh North Friday night in Madison.
Tough to say goodbye
Central, which experienced a rejuvenation this season by capturing its first conference title in 33 years, finished 19-5.
"There's not much else to say other than how proud I am," Mlachnik said. "It hasn't really sunken in yet, to be honest. I can't believe it's over. I really thought we'd be playing on Saturday. It sure doesn't feel over."
Brown finished with a game-high 20 points for Central. Garrett and McMillian added 15 and 14, respectively, and Tonnie Collier chipped in with 12.
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