by Dave Boehler
Beacon Sports Editor
One more win, and the Sheboygan Lutheran boys basketball team is the Division 5 state champion.
“It’s amazing,” Crusader Graden Grabowski said. “It’s really shell-shocking and we all look forward to tomorrow.”
This morning, Lutheran pulled away in the second half to defeat McDonell Catholic, 74-61, in a semifinal game at the Kohl Center in Madison.
The top-seeded and second-ranked Crusaders improve to 26-2 after winning their seventh game in a row to reach their first state championship game since winning the 2012 title.
The team, in the tournament for the first time since 2014, will play Marshfield Columbus at 11:05 a.m. on Saturday.
Fourth-seeded and unranked McDonell Central finishes with an 18-10 record after making its fourth straight trip to state. The Macks were runner-up last season.
“We knew they had a lot of firepower,” McDonell Central coach Adam Schilling said. “The first half we played them the way we expected to play them but they eventually wore us down. Hats off to them, they’re a very good team. We knew that coming in.”
Jacob Ognacevic once again led Lutheran with 19 points (on 7-of-10 shooting) and 14 rebounds, but there’s more to the Crusaders than just the junior who is getting recruited by several Division I colleges.
Delvin Barnstable finished with 18 points, Graden Grabowski added 16 with five rebounds and Casey Verhagen contributed 12 points and nine assists.
“If it was just Jacob, we wouldn’t be here,” Lutheran coach Nick Verhagen said. “There’s no question about that. And Jacob knows that. He understands that. We all do. For us to be successful, we can’t have JO have 35 and everybody else have five. We’ve done that before, it hasn’t worked.”
For example, there was Barnstable drilling back-to-back three-pointers for Lutheran’s biggest lead of the game, 58-43, with 5 minutes 43 seconds left.
“That felt good,” Barnstable said.
The versatility showed throughout the entire contest, beginning with Michael Berger playing 9 minutes in the first half and contributing four key points in a row early.
In the second half, Lutheran made a basket and a sneaky Casey Verhagen stole the inbound pass in front of the baseline for a layup and another two quick points.
Then there was Grabowski driving to the basket along the baseline only to bobble the ball on the way up for a shot. He immediately grabbed the ball, went up again and was fouled which led to a free throw.
And finally, Grabowski diving for a loose ball on the floor and beating two Macks to it, which allowed Lutheran to call timeout to force a turnover.
“It was a lot of good hustle from all of us,” Barnstable said.
His coach agreed it was a gritty performance.
“I thought we did the little things better today, and when they mattered most,” Verhagen said.