by Dave Boehler
Beacon Sports Editor
There are a number of reasons to think Sheboygan Lutheran will advance to the Division 5 boys state basketball championship game on Saturday.
Because on Friday, its semifinal opponent is Chippewa Falls McDonell.
The Crusaders are 25-2 and were ranked No. 2 in the final state coaches’ poll. The Macks were not ranked and are 18-9. That’s the most losses of any of the 20 teams in the tournament.
Lutheran is also the top-scoring team out of any at state with an average of 83 points per game. McDonell’s average of 58 is the lowest in all five divisions of the tournament.
The Crusaders’ tallest – and best – player is 6-foot-7 junior center Jacob Ognacevic, who averages 30.5 points a game. The Macks do not have anyone over 6-5.
“We’re going to have our hands full,” first-year McDonell coach Adam Schilling said.
Of course, Lutheran is not buying any of it.
“I feel if we take them for granted, we might struggle, even if their numbers are not as good,” Crusader senior Delvin Barnstable said. “I’m confident we will win and do good, but if we look past them and focus on another team, I think we could make a lot of mistakes and that could cost us.”
One advantage McDonell has is state experience, as the Macks will be at the Kohl Center for the fourth year in a row. Lutheran’s last trip was in 2014.
“They’ve been to state the past three years,” Crusaders’ junior Jacob Ognacevic said. “They have a good tradition and play in a really tough conference, and everyone at state is there for a reason. So really, we’re not taking any team for granted.”
McDonell plays in the Cloverbest West Conference and finished runner-up to Osseo-Fairchild, which also made it to state and is ranked eighth in Division 4. Not only do the Macks have two losses to the Thunder, including their latest by just three points, they also have losses to fifth-ranked Clear Lake and ninth-ranked Colfax earlier this season.
No matter the team, Lutheran coach Nick Verhagen has been telling his Crusaders to focus on the things they do really well and be prepared for every situation.
“Because we anticipate that through better talent, more successful teams we play along the way and better coaching, that at some point they’re going to try to challenge us in unique ways,” he said. “I think we’ve seen just about everything throughout the season, so I think I’ve got these guys prepared for just about anything – unless they bring a seventh defender, an eighth defender, I don’t know how to do that.
“We’ve got to control what we control, do what we’re really good at doing. We like to move the ball, attack the rim, hit open shots, pressure defense, play as a unit … it’s five guys working together.”