CHIPPEWA FALLS — For the second time this decade, Chippewa Falls McDonell has a date with Sheboygan Area Lutheran in the Division 5 state semifinals.
And just like last time, the Macks are going up against a lanky Crusader scoring over 30 points per game.
In 2012 it was future Wisconsin Badger Sam Dekker, who scored 35 points in a 63-61 win over the Macks. This year it’s Jacob Ognacevic.
The 6-foot-7 junior is averaging 30.5 points and 15.6 rebounds per game for Sheboygan Area Lutheran (25-2). Like Dekker, he has received recruiting interest from NCAA Division I schools.
And he’s not the only weapon on the top-seeded Crusaders’ roster. Four players are averaging double figure points per game for Sheboygan Area Lutheran.
“They’re obviously very talented,” McDonell first-year coach Adam Schilling said. “They do have some size, their taller players can definitely shoot the ball from outside as well. Very talented group, I know they’re very good defensively also. We’re going to have our hands full on Friday.”
McDonell (18-9) has a definite edge in experience when the two teams take the floor at 9:05 a.m. on Friday morning. This is the Macks’ fourth consecutive trip to state, while it’s the first since 2014 for the Crusaders.
Friday’s semifinal features two teams that like to push the pace, although the Crusaders have run with a bit more regularity than the Macks. The Crusaders are averaging 82.7 points per game, while McDonell scores at a clip of 58.1 per contest.
If the fourth-seeded Macks are going to return to the state championship game for the second straight year, enforcing their preferred pace — pushing the tempo when the situation calls for it and controlling the ball when it doesn’t — figures to be key.
“We want to be able to match up with them and take over the tempo,” McDonell senior Charlie Bleskachek said. “We like to push the ball, get a lot of possessions and quick baskets, so that will be key.”
How can they make that happen?
“It starts on defense,” Schilling said. “Playing good defense until they shoot and then getting the defensive rebound, limiting them to one shot. On offense, move the ball a little bit, make them guard us.”
Slow starts have hindered McDonell in its last two playoff games. The Macks fell behind both Athens and Luck in the first half and had to rally to advance to the next round.
Falling into another lull in Madison could be costly.
“We’ve just got to come out ready to go,” senior guard Jaebin Bourget said. “At the state tournament you need to have your best game for two halves. We’ve been lucky enough to go on some good runs to get us back into the lead, but it’s (about) coming out with fire.”
The Macks are going up against a Crusaders team that only has a multi-faceted attack on offense. Beyond Ognacevic, forwards Delvin Barnstable (17.7 ppg) and Graden Grabowski (10.4 ppg) and guard Casey Verhagen (10 ppg) are all proven scorers.
McDonell has solid team size and a well-rounded offense that doesn’t rely too much on any given player either. Senior guard Cory Hoglund leads the team with 17 points per game, while forwards Bleskachek (11.8 ppg) and Eion Kressin (9.6 ppg) have scored in bunches too.
JD Bohaty (8.8 ppg) gives the Macks a sharpshooter to utilize on the perimeter. He shoots over 40 percent from outside.
The Macks believe if things are working on the defensive end, those results will transition to the offensive side of the court.
“We just can’t let them get out in transition. We take our defense with pride,” Hoglund said. “That’ll be the key in the game: playing our game, working the ball around, and holding them to a reasonable amount of points.”
The winner of the first semifinal faces either second-seeded Marshfield Columbus Catholic or third-seeded Bangor for the state title on Saturday morning.
Notes: The first matchup between McDonell and Sheboygan Area Lutheran in 2012 featured two future professional athletes in Dekker, now in the NBA with the Washington Wizards, and McDonell’s Kyle Cody, a pitcher in the Texas Rangers organization. ... Bourget drew plenty of attention on social media during last year’s semifinal win over Deerfield when his glasses broke and he had to shoot free throws with only one lens in the frame. Perhaps inspired by that moment, he no longer plays with glasses. “I thought it was time for a change, and my mom was sick of buying me more pairs of glasses for basketball season,” he joked.