After four years, West Allis Hale's losing streak finally ends
Huskies take down Brookfield East, end GMC frustration
West Allis - Unwelcome thoughts of "here we go again" likely invaded the minds of the West Allis Hale boys basketball players on Friday night against Brookfield East.
The Huskies, trying desperately to break a long losing streak in Greater Metro Conference play, lost a 17-point lead and trailed the Spartans by four points early in the fourth quarter.
In the previous game on Dec. 11, Hale squandered a double-digit advantage against West Allis Central and fell in overtime (see separate story).
This time, however, the Huskies rallied and came away with a 59-54 triumph over East behind 19 points from Derrick Waller and 17 points and six assists by Travis Balcerzak.
The victory finally halted what had become a 58-game losing string in GMC action. It was Hale's first conference victory since Feb. 14, 2008, when the Huskies topped Marquette, 40-27, to cap a 9-5 campaign.
A difficult four years
"The Hale program has suffered through four tough years," first-year head coach John Palesse said. "It is hard to imagine the burden that has been put on these kids. All through school they hear about it and at home they hear about it; there was such a negative vibe about Hale basketball.
Palesse said that comes with going 0-58 in conference.
"You can't hide from that record," he said. Even the players on the junior varsity and freshman teams suffered due to the negativity."The team had a lot to overcome.
"I am so proud of each player in our program, as they have all worked hard over the summer and into the season," Palesse said.
Team captain Nick Sotiros, who contributed eight points, three rebounds and two assists and did not turn over the ball against East, also said the victory is a landmark.
"This shows how far things have come along for us," Sotiros said. "We are getting where we need to get."
Ups and downs
The Huskies opened this season with three non-conference victories, which built some confidence. But they still had to overcome the long-time frustration in GMC play.
They fell to Marquette, 65-50, in the first conference game, then appeared to be on the verge of victory before falling to Central on Dec. 11.
"The Marquette game showed us that we had some work yet to do," Palesse said, "then the Central game was crushing…we were so close but couldn't finish it out. On the day after the Central game, we had our best practice, which says a lot about the heart and character of our guys."
Sotiros said the Central game was tough, but they took it as a positive.
"We wanted to get back out there and get our first win," he said.
Hale jumped to a 20-11 advantage after one quarter against East, but the lead was trimmed to just six at 31-25 at the half.
"Imagine the doubt that comes with losing 58 straight as well as losing a few leads this season," Palesse said. "But our guys really believed in themselves and came out strong in the second half."
Still, the Spartans wiped out the rest of the lead, then went up by four themselves.
"Again, we handled the adversity, played outstanding basketball down the stretch and finally won a conference game," Palesse said. "Our fans stormed the court and the players thoroughly enjoyed the moment."
Noel Crabtree added seven points, and Palesse said Ryan Best, Jake Geiger and Cole Lampe played some important minutes off the bench to help the Huskies overcome major foul problems.
The Huskies netted 14 of 15 free throws and committed only seven turnovers on the night, the coach said.
Sotiros, a senior who has struggled through much of the losing string, said Palesse has done a good job in turning things around quickly.
"He preaches defense, which is big," Sotiros said, "and he lets us play to our strengths. We're not a big team, but we can get up and down the floor and play in transition."
Hale met Wauwatosa East on Tuesday night and will visit Franklin at 7:15 p.m. this Friday. The Huskies will then host a tournament next Friday and Saturday, Dec. 28-29, with Kettle Moraine, Greendale and Milwaukee North.
"It was nice to overcome this major hurdle," Palesse said, "but we hope to now get some recognition for a winning streak."
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