PADDOCK LAKE — After three seasons that have included two Southern Lakes Conference championships, three regional titles and a sectional title, senior guard Jaeden Zackery admitted he’s losing track of where he’s keeping the pieces of net the Central boys basketball team keeps cutting down.
“I’ve got a few tied up in my car so I don’t lose them,” Zackery said Saturday night after the Falcons claimed their third consecutive regional championship and, per custom, cut down the nets.
“Otherwise, they’re at home. My mom keeps track of them.”
Keeping track of Zackery for opposing defenses, meanwhile, is a whole lot harder than finding keepsakes.
In complete control like usual, Zackery poured in a game-high 30 points — and made it look almost effortless — as top-seeded Central blitzed county rival and fourth-seeded Wilmot from the jump and coasted to a 71-39 victory in a WIAA Division-2 regional title game at Central.
The Falcons, ranked No. 5 in Division-2 in the final WisSports.net state coaches poll, roll into sectionals having won 17 consecutive games to reach 23-1.
But what’s scary is this: As well as Central has played all season — and over the last three seasons, for that matter — the Falcons reached another level in Saturday’s first half.
Playing almost perfect basketball, the Falcons swarmed the Panthers with four blocked shots, owned the defensive glass and transitioned to offense with lightning speed and precision passing that saw the ball rarely even touch the floor.
By the end of the first 18 minutes, Central led 44-15, and the game was essentially over.
Even Central coach James Hyllberg was left with almost nothing to nitpick about the first half, searching his scorebook and shrugging that three missed free throws was about the only thing he could find.
“I thought our first half was fantastic,” Hyllberg said. “Probably the best first half we’ve played, maybe since I’ve been here.”
You’d get no argument from Wilmot coach Jake Erbentraut.
“We went into the half, and we honestly said, ‘What do we draw up? What do we do?’” he said. “They were playing so well. Give them all the credit.”
Zackery, who scored 17 points in the first half and added 10 rebounds and two assists for the game, said the Falcons were motivated knowing it was their final home game.
From here on out, every game will be at neutral sites.
“It’s a really great feeling, especially (since) this was our last game here as seniors,” said Zackery, who moved within 25 points of tying 1989 graduate Tim Cates atop the program’s all-time career scoring list.
“It was really a blessing. We knew coming into this game — this morning we talked about it — that this is going to be our last game ever playing in here, so we knew we had to come out strong in the first half.”
The Falcons now get another familiar opponent in SLC foe Elkhorn in the sectional semifinals. The third-seeded Elks toppled second-seeded East Troy, 56-50, on the road Saturday night.
The sectional semifinal is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Fort Atkinson but will almost surely be moved — possibly to Burlington or Wilmot — for geographical reasons.
The physical Elks nearly eliminated the Falcons in last year’s sectional semifinals. Central swept Elkhorn this season, and after winning their two regional games by an average of 34 points, the Falcons look like a machine right now.
They’re certainly playoff tested in making their third straight trip to sectionals.
“It calms the nerves, for not only the players, but the coaches, too,” Hyllberg said. “Knowing that our guys have been there and know what it takes to keep going, to keep advancing. Our guys, their mindframe is solid.”
Freshman guard Jack Rose joined Zackery in double figures with 12 points, senior guard Adam Simmons totaled nine points, 10 rebounds and three assists, senior forward Dylan Anderson had seven points, nine boards and three assists and senior forward Joey Michelau compiled six points and six rebounds.
Wilmot was led by junior guard Zack Watson (10 points), senior forward Kevin Brenner (eight points, four rebounds) and senior forward Noah Coleman (eight points, four boards).
The Panthers finished 18-6, and Erbentraut couldn’t heap enough praise on a scrappy squad that accomplished more than he expected.
“I told our guys at the end, we still overachieved,” said Erbentraut, who collected his 100th career win with Friday’s sectional semifinal defeat of Jefferson. “If someone would’ve told me that we were going to have 18 wins on the season, I’d have thought you were absolutely out of your mind.
“... I will say, I absolutely love this team. I so looked forward to coming to practice, so looked forward to just being around them.”