Greenfield — Jim Nowak gave his former Greenfield boys basketball players one more boost last week.
Nowak, who had resigned from his head coaching spot suddenly in December, showed up in the Hustlin' Hawks' locker room minutes before their WIAA Division 2 regional quarterfinal game on March 1 against Cudahy.
"His presence was great," said coach Ed Mermolia, who had taken over Nowak's duties upon his departure. "The boys were happy. It was nice to have our family back together."
Thus inspired, Greenfield went out and beat the Packers, 65-63, to advance to a semifinal on March 4 against Wisconsin Lutheran.
Although the Hawks dropped that contest to the powerful Vikings, 71-50, to wind up 5-19, the loss took nothing away from their special moment in the regional opener.
Nowak had not attended a game since his resignation for unspecified health reasons on Dec. 17, but he had remained in constant contact with Mermolia. "He called numerous times and asked me to come to practices," Nowak said. "He wanted me to come back for senior night, but I didn't feel well enough to do that. We finally agreed on the first regional game."
Nowak enjoyed his return, saying, "It was an honor, and it was enjoyable to see the kids again. It had been a difficult decision to leave after 16 years. It was nice that I had a chance to address the team. That meant a lot to me."
Greenfield had to come from behind against Cudahy, trailing 37-31 at the half. Nate Rios sparked the comeback with three straight baskets, a 3-point goal and a pair of two-point shots, as the Hawks trimmed their deficit to 47-46 after three.
Ricky Santiago and Reggie Blakely then combined for all of Greenfield's 19 points in the fourth period, with Santiago tallying 12 and Blakely seven.
At the same time, Evan Greco, Jason Katrichis and Blakely all played well on defense to stop the Packers, Mermolia said.
The Hawks built a seven-point lead, but missed some free throws in the final minute, allowing Cudahy to close within two at the end.
"It was good to see us play the fourth quarter from behind and win," Mermolia said.
Santiago tallied 24 points, while Blakely had 12, Rios 11 and Greco 10 for the Hawks. Ryan Scheel paced Cudahy (4-19) with 20 points.
"It was so nice to see the kids play so hard," said Nowak, who also praised Mermolia, his successor and friend, for helping him maintain his ties to the Greenfield program. "Ed has done a real good job of keeping me in the loop," Nowak said, "and making me still feel a part of the team."
The Hawks will lose seniors Rios, Greco, Katrichis, Austin Jacobsen, Malick Mohammed, Anthony Stulo and Ben Torkilson but return top scorers in Santiago and Blakely, both sophomores.
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