The formula is simple, but so effective, for the Cedarburg boys basketball team in winning tight tournament games.
It worked again in the Bulldogs' second consecutive postseason thriller, a 57-54 WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal triumph over Beaver Dam in front of a packed house at Hartford High School on March 9.
"This was the same thing as the last game (a 71-70 regional victory over Brown Deer)," Cedarburg junior standout John Diener said. "(This was) two evenly-matched teams; Beaver Dam is a great team. We knew coming in that it would go down to the wire, and we were able to gut it out at the end."
Cedarburg coach Tom Diener added, "We made some big plays at the end. This was another game that could have gone either way."
The Bulldogs made three crucial plays in the final 2 minutes after the Golden Beavers had scored 6 straight points to tie the game at 52-52.
Barber hits a three
First, Matt Barber nailed a 3-point field goal from the top of the key to break the tie and put his team up, 55-52, with 1 minute, 30 seconds left. Barber played well all night, collecting 16 points, including several key 3-pointers and jumpers.
"Matt played one of the best games of his life," John Diener said. "He stepped up on both ends (of the court). He hit a bunch of shots and clutch threes, and on the defensive end, he really stepped up and did a great job."
Beaver Dam's leading scorer, Garrett Nelson, drove the lane for a shot to trim the deficit to 55-54 with 57 seconds left. Cedarburg's Jared Short missed a free throw with 35 seconds remaining, and the Beavers had the ball with a chance for the lead.
They ran down the clock, and Nelson drove toward the basket, made contact with Short in the lane and was called for a charge with 14 seconds remaining.
The Bulldogs got the ball in to Diener, who was immediately fouled and hit both free throws to make it 57-54 with 13 seconds left. Diener had also hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds to beat Brown Deer in the regional game.
Beaver Dam had one last shot but Sam Wilke missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer, with Diener rebounding and throwing the ball high into the rafters in celebration.
"Barber had that huge three, then that charge that Jared took and the free throws that Diener made, just fantastic big plays down the stretch," Tom Diener said. "In close games like this, it could go either way, and somebody's going to make a play. Fortunately, it was us. They (the Beavers) are a great team, a phenomenal team. Not many people thought we would beat them."
The game was close throughout, with Cedarburg holding a narrow lead for much of the contest.
After trailing, 8-7, the Bulldogs went on an 11-3 run, sparked by 7 seven straight points from Diener, to go up 18-11. They expanded that to 30-19 on a 3-pointer by Barber and a drive from Jordan Johnson late in the first half.
Beaver Dam rallied within 32-27 when Nelson nailed a 3-point shot from midcourt at the buzzer, and the Beavers had plenty of momentum going into the half.
Cedarburg held them off for a while, but Beaver Dam tied it at 40-40 on a 3-pointer from Connor Cullen. The Bulldogs tallied 7 straight points, again with a 3-pointer from Barber, to take a 50-44 lead.
The Beavers came back with 6 straight to tie it at 52-52, setting up the final heroics of Barber, Short and Diener.
Cedarburg was led by Diener with 23 points, with Johnson adding 8 points and Short 6. Nelson paced the Beavers with 19 points and Dillon Livingston totaled 11 points.