LAKE MILLS — One game helped wipe away three years of regional misery.
Senior forward Charlie Bender scored a game-high 25 points as the top-seeded Lake Mills boys basketball team beat third-seeded Stoughton 72-52 in a WIAA Division 2 regional final on Saturday at Lake Mills High School.
The L-Cats never trailed, winning their first regional crown since 2017. The team lost in regionals the last three seasons.
“We’ve been talking about how this is the first one since ‘17,” Bender said. “We’ve also been talking about how since before ‘17 it was way back in (1995) when we last won it. It’s huge for us. The seniors were trying to explain to the underclassmen that we’ve been knocked out in this round all three years of high school.
“We lost to Lakeside (Lutheran) my freshman year, Lakeside again my sophomore year and went to (Racine) St. Cat’s and got buzzsawed (last season). This feels great. It’s the farthest in the playoffs I’ve ever been. We’re going to try our best not to be star-struck and come back to practice and get to work.”
Senior guard Drew Stoddard added 18 of his 24 points in the first half as the L-Cats (21-5) built a 43-33 halftime advantage.
“We were just trusting each other,” Bender said of the first-half offense. “The best thing about our team is that we get the ball to whoever is hot. Sometimes it’s who’s lucky enough to be on the end of some of our longer possessions when we get two or three ball reversals. We know then we’re doing good offense.
“It’s not a matter of who goes and creates their own shot. It’s a matter of who is on the end of our best ball movement. That happened to be Drew when it came to scoring on the perimeter. Happened to be me getting some ball screens from (Jaxson) Retrum and coming off curl screens and scoring. It’s all about movement for us and who is on the end of those really good possessions.”
Freshman guard Ty Fernholz contributed 17 points for the Vikings (4-6) and senior guard Cael McGee added 15, battling foul trouble in each half.
“Focus defensively was on McGee and making sure he sees a wall of defenders when he drives,” Lake Mills head coach Steve Hicklin said. “Knowing the tendencies of the other guys was also important. They had some really good shooters and some guys that wanted to finish at the basket. Understand who you’re guarding and getting our right matchups was really a focus.”
Lake Mills senior forward Adam Moen had eight points, Retrum six and junior guard Ethan Foster five.
The L-Cats earned a No. 2 seed in their sectional bracket and will host No. 3-seeded Wisconsin Dells Thursday at 7 p.m.
LAKE MILLS 72, STOUGHTON 52
Stoughton 33 19 — 52
Lake Mills 43 29 — 72
STOUGHTON (fg ft-fta pts) — Baldukas 1 0-0 3, McGee 6 2-2 15, Stokstad 0 2-2 2, Marggi 0 2-2 2, Sproul 1 0-0 2, L. Fernholz 4 1-2 11, T. Fernholz 6 0-0 17. Totals 18 7-8 52.
LAKE MILLS — Stoddard 8 2-4 24, Wilke 0 2-2 2, Foster 2 0-0 5, Stenbroten 1 0-0 2, Retrum 2 2-5 6, Moen 3 2-3 8, Bender 11 2-4 25. Totals 27 10-18 72.
3-point goals: S 9 (T Fernholz 5, L Fernholz 2, McGee 1, Baldukas 1); LM 8 (Stoddard 6, Foster 1, Bender 1). Total fouls: S 19; LM 8. Fouled out: McGee.