Brown Deer boys basketball coach Kelly Appleby can't help but ask "What if?"
His team's exciting Woodland Conference East Division co-championship season ended with a thrilling one-point loss to Ceadrburg in a WIAA D2 regional final. Cedarburg followed that with a series of close victories that landed them right in the D2 state final, where the Bulldogs' luck finally ran out in a close defeat to La Crosse Central.
Appleby doesn't say, "That could have been us" out loud.
But he might think it now and again.
"What did they play, something like five games all within five points?" said Appleby of the Bulldogs. "None of us thought that the sectional would be as competitive as it was, but then us, Cedarburg, Kaukauna, Beaver Dam, we all were thinking what could we have done? It turned out to be a very strong regional-sectional set-up.
But despite that, there was still much to take the Falcons' fifth straight divisional title season.
They stumbled out of the gate at 3-3 with a heartbreaker to returning state D2 qualifier Whitnall on Dec. 20. They ripped off seven in a row to follow that but then had a bad last weekend in January with a bad loss to Pius XI and then a good effort but still a defeat to nonconference opponent Racine Case.
They were well behind streaking but injury-prone Whitnall in the conference race but then ran off eight straight victories to earn a share of the conference title.
They were without point guard Damon Jackson when they played arguably their best game of the year in a 94-77 road rout of Whitnall and clinched the share of the crown in one of the most memorable games since the state title years when Jackson hit a runner in the lane at the buzzer to beat powerful Pewaukee on the road on Feb. 22.
"That win over Whitnall absolutely catapulted us," Appleby said. "It was a huge motivator."
A key 96-78 win over Tosa West right after the two losses was also pivotal, Appleby said, as it helped restore confidence.
"Winning conference was a huge accomplishment," said Appleby. "We were really challenged to do it this year when in the past we really weren't. I think the best thing we were able to do was to stick to our run and gun philosophy. We were also able to experiment with some different sets because our guard play was so dynamic We were able to think outside of the box a little."
They were indeed as the senior Jackson worked with fellow veterans senior Jalen Greenlee and junior Jay Gentry. Both Greenlee and Gentry made first team All-Woodland East while Jackson was second team. Gentry was also honorable mention all state.
"Damon played every game but two in the last two years and was great at the point while Jalen's development in the second half of this season was absolutely key to us making that run down the stretch. He had 34 against Whitnall (in the second game)," Appleby said, "and Jay was simply one of the hardest guys in the area to guard."
Gentry led the team with an 18.7 ppg. average while Jackson tossed in 16.3 and Greenlee 15.5. Gentry hit 75 percent of his free throws (72-96) while Jackson hit 78 percent (65-83). Greenlee hit an imposing 73 3-pointers and Gentry 55.
What made the guards more effective was the improvement of 6-7 junior forward Johnny Saengphonphakdy, a traditional low-block player who tosses in 8.5 ppg.
"He gave us a big dynamic force inside," Appleby said. Gentry's sophomore brother Jaylon Gentry added 7.4 ppg.
Seniors this year include Reese Drake, Greenlee, Jackson, Cordell Hadley and forward Bryce Graf. Jackson and Greenlee were the captains.
The Falcons' junior varsity struggled a bit this year with two sophomores up on the varsity, but the freshmen had a strong 18-4 campaign.
Appleby likes the core the Falcons will build around next year, including the two Gentrys, Saengphonphakdy, junior forward Liam McGuire and other players who saw time like sophomore guard Brooklyn Jagers and junior guard Tejhaun Palmer.