‘Redemption tour’: McCune leads Whitehall to first boys basketball state appearance in 37 years
Devon McCune wasn’t thinking about the moment, what it meant or what was at stake if he missed.
He wasn’t listening to the hundreds of screaming fans from Cameron trying to distract the Whitehall senior as he took two free throws in the dying seconds of Saturday’s WIAA Division Four boys basketball sectional final at Neillsville High School.
“I just don’t pay attention to anything but the hoop and the ball,” McCune said. “I just think it’s going in and execute that.”
The Whitehall senior made both of his free throws with four seconds remaining, points that secured a 66-62 win and a trip to the state tournament this week. It’s the program’s first state appearance in 37 years.
The third-seeded Norse will battle second-seeded Onalaska Luther (26-2) in a state semifinal game on Thursday at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Whitehall (22-6) is the only public school to qualify for the Division Four state tournament field.
“It’s going to be great for the community, it’s going to be a heck of a fun week at school,” Whitehall coach Tyler Petersen said of qualifying for state. “I don’t know how much we’ll get accomplished this week,” he joked, “but we’re going to really enjoy it.”
Cameron (22-6) and Whitehall traded scores early on in Saturday’s battle of No. 3 seeds, with the former jumping out to a 7-0 lead.
McCune and senior teammate Luke Beighley hit consecutive three-pointers midway through the half to take the lead back for Whitehall.
With Cameron leading late in the first half, the Norse again hit a pair of threes, this time from McCune and junior Brayden Lisowski. The scores gave Whitehall a 33-29 advantage at halftime.
The Norse knew that Cameron was going to try to limit them near the basket and prevent them from penetrating the lane. Being able to hit some of those shots from beyond the arc was important, Petersen said.
Whitehall opened the second half on a 15-6 run and pushed its lead to 13, but Cameron came storming back in the closing minutes. Whitehall was forced out of bounds in the final minute, and Cameron got the ball back down by three, 58-55.
After missing four free throws in a row, Whitehall forced a turnover and got the ball into McCune’s hands. The senior didn’t miss, closing the game with a string of points from the line.
“If Devon’s taking the shot, there’s no question,” Petersen said. “He’s been a great role model, a great teammate, just a great kid overall for four years, and I have the utmost respect and confidence in Devon taking any shot.”
Standing on the court at Neillsville High School on Saturday surrounded by handshakes, hugs and scream-filled celebrations, the coach said his team earned the state berth.
Those on the Whitehall bench on Saturday knew they weren’t even born yet the last time their school was at the state tournament. They made it known just how much it meant to earn a trip back nearly four decades later.
One Whitehall resident walked up and down the sideline with a Whitehall flag that was part of the 1986 celebration. A woman on the court showed others pages from the school’s yearbook that year.
“They really worked hard all year and we hit our stride at the perfect time of the year,” Petersen said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these kids. It’s going to be a really fun ride home and a great week.”
McCune said he was proud of the way his team stuck together to pull out the win despite the late push from Cameron.
“Early on we were predicted to be like top 10 or whatever, and we dropped off after a few games. Now we came back on a redemption tour and just had to come back and fight,” McCune said.
“We did it. We’re going. It’s been, what, 37 years? Something I’ve always wanted to do, and now we’re going back.”
Whitehall (field goals/attempts-free throws/attempts-rebounds-fouls-points) — Beighley 3/8-0/0-8-4-9 McCune 3/9-8/9-8-5-16 Lisowski 6/11-4/4-7-2-19 Schroeder 1/1-2/5-2-3-4 Olson 2/3-1/2-0-1-5 Pank 2/5-1/4-7-5-5 Lambeck 2/6-2/4-2-0-8
Hot start, strong defense help Norse to semifinal win
By Andrew Dannehy
The Norse came out firing as they built up a big lead early and maintained control in the 59-54 sectional semifinal win.
Luke Beighley had 15 points or the Norse in the first half, including two three pointers that helped his team take a 12-3 lead.
The Crickets got within five at 14-9 after a fastbreak dunk by Bo Vollrath, but Beighley and Devon McCune helped the Norse regain control. McCune responded to the dunk with a basket before Beighley hit a jumper to make the score 18-9.
After another basket by Vollrath, Beighley drilled a three then a jumper before McCune hit an outside shot, making the score 25-11. McCune made a three pointer just before the first half buzzer to give the Norse a 31-15 lead at the intermission.
While the Norse were making shots, coach Tyler Petersen said his team’s focus was on the defensive end.
“Defensively, we stayed disciplined and stayed true to who we are and really played well against Fall Creek’s bigs and took away what they’re best at,” Petersen said.
The Norse held Fall Creek to 32.3 percent shooting from the field.
Whitehall went ahead by 19 early in the second half and led by 18 after McCune made a three pointer with 10 minutes remaining.
The Crickets battled and cut the lead to 10 with 4:35 left in the game, but Whitehall responded with consecutive baskets by Colton Pank and Preston Schroeder.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Petersen said. “Every team is gonna have a run, you just have to see how you’re going to mitigate it as best as possible.”
The Norse led by 12 with just over a minute left before the Crickets started draining three pointers to cut into the lead. Fall Creek got within five, but McCune made two free throws with seven seconds left to clinch the Whitehall win.
Petersen complimented the leadership shown by seniors McCune, Pank and Beighley, saying they have “really shined” the last three games.
McCune led the Norse with 18 points while Beighley scored 17 with nine rebounds. Pank added seven and five rebounds. Whitehall shot 56.4 percent from the field.
Whitehall (field goals/attempts-free throws/attempts-rebounds-fouls-points) — Beighley 7/11-0/0-9-3-17 McCune 6/13-4/5-4-2-18 Lisowski 2/8-4/7-4-3-9 Schroeder 3/3-0/0-3-2-6 Olson 0/0-0/0-1-0-0 Pank 3/3-1/4-5-2-7 Lambeck 1/1-0/0-3-0-2