The Oak Creek boys basketball team clinched a share of its first Southeast Conference title since 2005-06 with a pair of important wins over Racine Horlick and Racine Case last week.
All-time baseball great Tony Butler was at the heart of that team, as were others. There have been a few close calls at a title in the intervening years, but all came up a little short.
But four years ago, seventh-season coach Mike Jossie saw something in the freshmen group, which are now seniors.
It was right after the group lost its season finale to Racine Case, only the second loss of the campaign for the team. Tim Spata was the frosh coach at the time.
"He (Spata) really got things going," said Jossie. "He established the mindset of success for this group. He told them that if you keep that mindset, you can put a number (on the boys basketball championship banner), and then they went out and did it ... it is really very gratifying."
Especially for the eight seniors on the team, including co-captains Drew Yetka, Joey Zietlow and Jakup Sinani, along with Blake Mierow, Matt Kasar, George Spyres, Max Magyar, David Ortiz, Andrew Balko, Nathan Luedtke and Bobby Smith.
Athletic Director Scott Holler said the group has come far.
"It really has been awhile," he said, "and in these last couple of years Mike (Jossie) has had some good teams but couldn't quite finish. It was just very exciting to see all that experience finally play out. It's a good group of kids and a very special accomplishment."
"Old Michael, he really puts in his time," chucked Knights girls coach Steve Hluchnik, whose team has won five Southeast titles in a row.
That he does.
Jossie said that having six of the current seniors on varsity since sophomore year was a help in getting the group grounded. It's led to a very smooth season paced by the captains.
"Drew, Jakup and Joey have been locked in, and that always makes for good practices," Jossie said. "When you have player-driven practices, you know you have a good team and the last two weeks have been really locked in."
The Knights entered the week 11-1 in Southeast Conference play and 17-2 overall. They took on Greenfield in a nonconference game Feb. 14 and then will look to clinch the Southeast title outright when they host Kenosha Tremper (4-9 in league play) on Monday, Feb. 20, in a make-up game.
WIAA sectional seeding meetings will be held this weekend. The Knights are going to look for the two seed in the WIAA D1 West Allis Central sectional bracket. Greater Metro Conference leader Brookfield Central has the inside track for the top seed.
But first things first.
In the 60-52 win over Case on Feb. 10 on the Eagles ' senior night, the Knights took a 32-25 lead at the half and then held on from there, as Yetka continued his amazing season with 27 points, Zietlow had 20 and Sinani 8. Oak Creek hit 18 of 25 free throws as compared to just 3-of-3 for Case.
Yetka hit nine of 10 free throws. Jossie said Case is a team that wants to get 70 to 80 possessions a game and really push the pace, but Oak Creek held its ground and limited the Eagles to only 53 possessions.
The tone for the week was set by a spectacular effort in the first half against dangerous Horlick on Feb. 7. Yetka hit all six of his 3-point attempts in the session, as Oak Creek roared out to a 40-9 lead at the break.
"The guys were pumped up and ready," Jossie said, "and the defensive effort was amazing. We just simply did not let them get any good looks. I told the guys you continue that kind of play you can go places."
The Knights coasted in the second half and settled for a 57-40 victory, as Yetka finished with seven 3s and 25 points, Zietlow had 15 and Sinani 8.
That kind of effort can only come from unity, Jossie said.
"Every single player, whether they play 36 minutes or zero minutes, they are as locked in as they can be," he said. "That's what has made this season so special."
"This is clearly a testament to Mike's philosophy," Holler added. "How he gets guys to buy in. There are always questions: 'Do we have the quickness or the talent to handle these teams in the Southeast?' and the answer has been 'Yes'. And a lot of it has been because of Mike's offensive and defensive philosophy.
"He's really applied what he's learned."