Oak Creek senior basketball forward Drew Yetka really likes the north hoop at the Franklin gym.
Really, really likes it.
Two years ago as a skinny sophomore, Yetka took a nearly length of the court pass from then star guard Harrison Cleary and cashed a layup just fractions of a second ahead of the buzzer to beat the Sabers.
Fast forward to Jan. 27, as a taller and stronger senior star for the Knights, Yetka took a quick pass from fellow senior guard Nathan Luedtke and cashed another layup in the north basket against Franklin to give his team a 51-49 lead with just 1.1 seconds left. After hitting a free throw for a foul on the play, Yetka and the Knights fought off a desperation 3 from the baseline by the Sabers to hold on for the 52-49 victory and the lead in the Southeast Conference.
"It was the same type of deal," said Yetka about the two games, as a large crowd of Oak Creek students flooded the court and mobbed the players after the win, "and it was just as fun."
Yetka's hoop was redemption for a difficult start for the 6-5 forward, as Franklin committed to stopping the 20-point a game scorer. Physical senior forward Ethan Wittenburg made Yetka's life difficult all night.
But thanks to help from the likes of fellow seniors Matt Kasar, Bobby Smith, Joey Zietlow and Luedtke, the Knights persevered in earning a season sweep of Franklin while improving to 8-1 in Southeast play and 13-2 overall.
"If I had shot the ball a little better, we wouldn't have been in this position," said Yetka, referring to a couple of layups that just rimmed out. "But the other guys made plays. We all do. Whenever one of us is down, another picks him up."
Oak Creek coach Mike Jossie agreed.
"That final play was set up was by Matt Kasar," said Jossie, referring to Kasar's 3-pointer that bounced off the front and then the back of the iron and in at the 1:22 mark for a 49-47 lead. "Matt didn't have to take that shot, but he did, and he hit it. I'm awfully proud of these guys. It's never easy here in Franklin and Tyler (Franklin coach Podoll) always gets these guys to play hard. Just one heck of a ball game. The kind you dream of at night."
Except that it will be a bit of a nightmare for Podoll and the Sabers, as they had their chances in an entertaining second half. They were up 23-20 at the break and got the lead to 32-28 with 12:26 to go, only to see the Knights go on a quick 10-0 run sparked by a 3-pointer from senior forward Jakup Sinani and a three-point play from senior guard Joey Zietlow to put Oak Creek ahead, 38-32, with 9:16 left.
But behind some key hoops from reserve center Zak Poweleit and two free throws from guard Marcus Lee, the Sabers went back in front at 42-40 with 5:49 left. Hoops were traded over the next few minutes as the packed house at Franklin got louder and louder.
After Kasar's 3-pointer, Franklin junior forward Max Alba, who hit one big shot after another in this game, drained a jumper to tie it at 49-all with 53 seconds left.
Jossie then decided to hold the ball for one shot and the win. Franklin still had two fouls to give before the bonus and committed one of them with about 13 seconds left. Podoll said that the Sabers should have fouled again, but he said he needed to convey that message in a louder voice, and it was missed. Luedtke got the ball on the right wing about free-throw line depth and saw Yetka slashing in from the left. He zipped the pass to Yetka, who caught it cleanly and cashed it for the game-winner.
"We were a little inexperienced in that situation," said Podoll. "They have seniors out there, and we're still playing with a lot of sophomores and juniors. ... We sort of knew what they were going to run. Mike (Jossie) likes to run one of three sets in a situation like that, using something of a backdoor chip. They ran it, and they got it done."
The game wasn't quite over. Podoll had held one time-out in reserve and used it right after Yetka's basket. After the free throw, Franklin threw a pass the length of the court. There was a collision deep in the Oak Creek end and the ball went out of bounds. There was no foul called, but the Sabers still had the ball and a chance with 0.5 of a second left. They got a catch-and-shoot situation on the baseline, but the shot came up a bit short.
"We actually had the right guy shooting, too," Podoll said as Franklin fell to 4-4 in Southeast play and 9-5 overall.
Oak Creek won despite Yetka being held to just 9 points. The 6-6 Smith, not normally a scoring threat, came up with 11 big points, including a pair of buckets after the Sabers took their largest lead of the game at 23-16 with 3:42 left in the half.
"Bobby's a great player," said Yetka. "He's known more for his defense, but he showed up big tonight."
Joey Zietlow and Jakup Sinani added 8 apiece, while Kasar had 9 for Oak Creek. Franklin was led by Alba with 16 points and Lee with 13.
Podoll was impressed with his team's effort but noted that the Knights showed a lot of backbone in holding off the Sabers' best effort.
"What a great environment for a high school experience," he said. "There's a lot of respect on both sides, and they may be the best team in the Southeast, but I like our team too. ... This was really a credit to them (the Knights). They finished the game, and they've answered all the doubts after graduating Harrison Cleary. They have a lot of seniors who trust Mike (Jossie) and trust the process."
Jossie is grateful but noted that there's still work to do.
"That team (Franklin), did a heck of a job," he said, "but now we have everything in front of us. We have big goals and we have some big games in front of us, but we have to continue working. This was one heck of a ballgame. Everyone who paid their $4 or whatever to get in got their money's worth."
"Everyone knew that this would probably be our hardest game (in the stretch run)," he said. "We will have some other tough ones too, but no doubt this game was really special. What a great way to leave this place."