Hales Corners - On Feb. 10, 2006, New Berlin Eisenhower clinched the Woodland Conference Black Division boys basketball championship, and for the next 2,198 days, the Lions could claim at least a share of that conference title - until Friday night at Whitnall.
The Falcons convincingly dispatched the Lions, 57-46, becoming outright conference champions and leaving the Lions settling for second place. The victory avenged an earlier loss to the Lions and moved Whitnall to 18-2, including 14-2 in conference play, two games ahead of Eisenhower (12-4).
"It was seven seniors that didn't want to be denied," head coach Kent Kroupa said. "They wanted to get on that championship wall outside.
"Eisenhower has had the championship for six years in a row, but it's going to be ours alone for the first time."
Not that Whitnall has been out of the championship picture itself. The Falcons have at least shared the division crown in four of the past five seasons, including last year, when they tied Eisenhower at 13-4.
Rematch on the horizon?
Whitnall could be heading toward a third meeting with the Lions in WIAA Division 2 regional action. The Falcons, seeded first in their regional, will open at 7 p.m. March 2 at home against either Union Grove or Catholic Memorial. If the Falcons win, they could face fourth-seeded Eisenhower at 7 p.m. March 3, also at Whitnall.
First things first, though.
Friday night's division championship game was played in front of a packed gym, filled with vocal supporters from both schools with a good understanding of what was on the line.
Whitnall jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, sending the crowd into a frenzy and the visiting Lions into a timeout.
A total of five different players scored in the opening quarter for the Falcons and although Eisenhower made a late first-half run, Whitnall never trailed during the championship night.
"We have been successful all year long because we play as a team," Kroupa said. "We aren't concerned with who scores or how many points they get."
Ian Ray led a balanced Falcons attack with 13 points and was one of the four seniors in double digits on the night for Whitnall. Team co-captain Bryan Nagy scored 10 points, including a bucket to end the first half that extended the lead after Eisenhower had come within two points of Whitnall.
"Ian Ray off the bench for us has been shooting threes like he's getting paid for it," Nagy said. "It has really been well-balanced all year, really fun. It was perfect for us seniors. It couldn't have been better."
Sophomore point guard Reed Timmer led Eisenhower with 18 points but was challenged by a stifling Whitnall defense all night. During one stretch spanning the first and second quarters, he scored all 10 of Eisenhower's points, helping cut the lead to four.
Whitnall's offense wasn't too shabby either, as the Falcons drained eight 3-pointers and eventually ballooned the lead to 21 points late in the fourth. Luke Mentkowski and Stephen Pelkofer each drained a pair of triples en route to the victory. Pelkofer finished with 11 points and Mentkowski 10.
Becoming 'the man'
With the Whitnall seniors playing one last regular-season home game against a conference rival in front of a packed house, Kroupa took a minute to soak in the accomplishment as the players celebrated with their fellow students.
"It's big any time we play them because the rivalry we have with Eisenhower is historically one of the best," Kroupa said. "Winning against a championship team - we couldn't ask for anything more."
If history is any indication, this won't be the last time these two schools battle down to the wire for a chance at the title.
"That's a great program; we beat a great program," Kroupa said. "To be the man you have to beat the man. I'm really happy for our seniors, really proud of our kids and to win a championship on a night like tonight is really special."
One day after Whitnall clinched the Woodland Black Division championship, the Falcons beat Waterford, 64-56, as coach Kent Kroupa notched his 300th career victory at the school.
RECORDS: Kroupa improved to 300-181 at Whitnall and 352-281 overall. He has coached the Falcons from 1984-94 and 2003 to the present
KROUPA: "It's been a great run at Whitnall. I have enjoyed coaching here and had a lot of fun. It's an honor to get 300 victories here. My philosophy has always been ABC: Academics, Behaviors and Court, which means playing time. I have held true to this from Day 1. I expect our players to also be good citizens and to work hard. I really don't pay attention to records; I just want the team to get better each day."
THE GAME: Luke Mentkowski tallied 19 points with a trio of 3-point field goals, while Stephen Pelkofer had 15 points, Bryan Nagy 10 and Ian Ray eight. The Falcons, who moved to 19-2 on the season, broke open a close game with a 26-19 fourth quarter.