STOUGHTON — The Monona Grove boys basketball team had the Badger South Conference title in its sights all season.
And the Silver Eagles knew Stoughton — which has won outright or shared the title the past six years — stood in the way of that goal.
With the title on the line in the regular-season finale, Monona Grove pulled out a 67-61 victory over host Stoughton before a packed house on Thursday night. The Silver Eagles won the undisputed league crown and, in the process, ended the Vikings’ reign. It was Monona Grove’s most recent title since sharing the championship with Stoughton during the 2012-13 season.
“This is very meaningful,” Monona Grove coach Dan Zweifel said. “They had won the conference six years in a row. We’ve been close a lot. … We’ve always strived to beat the best. … And we were fortunate to get it done tonight.”
Senior center Jake Schroeckenthaler scored 15 points, senior forward Jimmy Thome had 14 points and senior guard Max Nelson had 13 for the Silver Eagles (21-1 overall, 13-1 Badger South), ranked fourth in Division 2 in The Associated Press poll.
The Silver Eagles have won 10 consecutive games since dropping an 82-70 decision to the Vikings (14-8, 12-2) on Jan. 12 in Monona. Stoughton senior guard Brady Schipper scored 38 points in the first meeting; Monona Grove, led by the 6-foot-4 Thome’s defense, paid particularly close attention to Schipper this time.
“It’s really big for our program,” Thome said. “Everyone on our team wanted to beat them after they beat us by double digits. One of our big focuses was to shut him down.”
Senior forward Tommy McClain had a game-high 16 points for Stoughton, followed by Schipper (15 points) and senior Aidan McGee (11 points).
“We just needed something to go our way and we just didn’t get it,” Stoughton coach Nolan Weber said.
With Monona Grove running a weave the coaches put in this week, Thome scored two key baskets on drives into the lane — twice pushing the lead to seven points (55-48 and 57-50).
“We were able to get Thome on a couple matchups against them defensively, which he exploited,” Zweifel said. “He was able to create and get to the basket.”
McClain scored off a backdoor alley-oop, bringing Stoughton within 59-56 with 2 minutes, 37 seconds remaining. Thome, taking a pass from Schroeckenthaler, scored inside and Monona Grove led 61-56 with 59.3 seconds remaining. Schipper then sank a 3-pointer, cutting the Vikings’ deficit to 61-59 with 27.9 seconds left.
“The whole game I felt we would win this game,” Schipper said. “Shots for us weren’t falling at the right time, and then they’d get a bucket.”
But the Silver Eagles built the lead to six points when junior guard Henry Huston sank four free throws – two with 27.1 seconds left and two more with 14.1 seconds remaining.
After Vikings junior Drew Anderson scored on a putback with 5.2 seconds left, Schroeckenthaler broke free down court after corralling the inbounds pass and dunked just before time expired. That began the Silver Eagles’ celebration, with Schroeckenthaler chest-bumping any teammate in his path.
“I’m not known for dunking,” Schroeckenthaler said. “Me dunking in a varsity basketball game, against our archrivals, in the conference title game, with everything on the line, that has been something I wanted to do for a long time. To do it on that stage was just an added bonus. The conference title is a big deal. I don’t really care about what I did, we got the job done. That’s all that matters.”
Monona Grove, behind 10 points by Nelson, led 36-29 at halftime.
“Their pressure bothered us early,” Weber said. “We had 10 turnovers at the half. That was a big part of it. They thrive on turnovers.”
Monona Grove 36 31 — 67
Stoughton 29 32 — 61
MONONA GROVE — Ogden 3 0-1 6, Nelson 5 1-2 13, Nelson 4 0-1 8, Hepp 2 0-0 4, Thome 7 0-2 14, Schroeckenthaler 5 5-8 15, Huston 0 7-7 7. Totals 26 13-21 67.
STOUGHTON — Schipper 6 1-3 15, Fernholz 3 0-0 9, McClain 7 2-4 16, Hobson 2 0-0 4, McGee 2 6-6 11, Anderson 2 1-2 6. Totals 22 10-15 61.
3-point goals — MG 2 (Nelson 2), S 7 (Schipper 2, Fernholz 3, McGee 1, Anderson 1). Total fouls — MG 17, S 18. Fouled out — Nelson.