New Berlin Eisenhower's girls basketball program has achieved a level of success where expectations will be higher no matter the personnel losses from the year before.
But despite a high preseason ranking, veteran Lions coach Gary Schmidt truly was unsure of what he had, and outside of an early-season loss to Madison Edgewood, Eisenhower had been relatively untested through its six games
Now with two wins over state-ranked teams in three days, the Lions are untested and unproven no more. Eisenhower followed up a rout of Pius XI on Dec. 20 with a 62-53 victory over Pewaukee on Dec. 22.
The victory over Pewaukee was the 300th career win for Schmidt, who was honored in a postgame ceremony.
"I'm really happy with our kids," Schmidt said. "I think we are progressing at a nice rate. Everyone had high expectations. I got a kick out of it, because we had two our three kids coming back from our championship team, and the rest were new. But they are blending in and stepping up."
Despite holding Pewaukee to just 4 for 21 from the field in the first half, Eisenhower led just 22-16 at the break partially due to a scoring drought of 6 minutes, 21 seconds. Much as they did in a loss to New Berlin West on Dec. 20, the Pirates hung around by getting to the free-throw line.
Katie Ludwig opened the second half with a 3-pointer, and Julia Hintz then scored 5 quick points in an 8-0 Eisenhower run that gave the Lions a 30-16 lead with 16:59 to play.
"We didn't make shots," Pewaukee coach Todd Hansen said. "We shot 24 percent against New Berlin West, and in the first half (against Eisenhower), we made four baskets. You are not going to win games not putting the ball in the hole. They say you have to play defense to win, but you have to score, too. We just couldn't score. At times, we had shots, but we are not making them."
Eisenhower built a 51-31 advantage with 4:49 left, but Pewaukee did not go down easily. The Pirates played their best stretch of basketball late and used a 17-5 run to pull to within 56-48 on a 3-pointer by MacKenzie Schill with 1:16 to play.
"We felt pretty good at the 8-minute mark," Schmidt said. "Give Pewaukee credit. They know how to score in bunches, and that's what they did. I looked up and thought, 'Oh, my gosh.' But we held on and played tough enough defense to get the win."
Schill missed a runner in the lane that would have cut Eisenhower's lead to six with 43 seconds left. She then fouled out just seconds later, exiting with a game-high 28 points on 8 for 14 shooting.
"You can't start the second half and give them 8 points in a minute," Hansen said. "That puts us in a huge deficit. Against a team like this, a double-digit lead is gigantic, and 10 or 12 is really like 25. They are good, they play good defense and don't really turn the ball over. I liked the fight once we got down 20, but we told the girls you can't fight for 6 minutes, you have to fight for 36 minutes."
Hintz scored 19 of her 21 points in the second half, helping Eisenhower hold off Pewaukee's late comeback attempt by going 7 for 8 from the line. Ludwig finished with 18 points, while freshman forward Erin Hedman added 8 points and six rebounds off the bench.
Eisenhower entered the week ranked No. 4 in Division 2, while Pius XI was No. 9 and Pewaukee was No. 3. The Lions now sit at 7-1 overall and 6-0 in the Woodland West, one-half game ahead of 5-0 New Berlin West. Every other Woodland West team has at least two conference losses.
"When we lost to Madison Edgewood, Pewaukee jumped us, and deservedly so," Schmidt said. "Pius has been up there all year. A great feeling for any coach is to go into Christmas break with two wins like that. We can say we have those wins and go into break looking to shore some things up. It is a great feeling. I was real pleased with our effort this week."
Meanwhile, Pewaukee has dropped consecutive games after winning its first seven. The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Pirates, as their next two games are against Pius XI and Germantown.
"It was a tough week with back-to-back games against New Berlin West and New Berlin Eisenhower," Hansen said. "Nobody feels sorry for you. We had a good start to the year at 7-0 and we kind of got punched in the face a little bit. Now we have to see how we respond. I think we will respond."