No matter how the regular-season finale between New Berlin Eisenhower and New Berlin West turned out, the Woodland West conference champion was going to hail from New Berlin.
The Vikings were aiming to win the title outright, while the Lions were looking to grab a piece of the crown, a task that seemed tall just a month ago.
Completing an eight-game winning streak to close the regular season, Eisenhower left the Woodland West to be split between the New Berlin schools. The Lions earned a share of their first conference title since 2012-13 with a 52-42 victory over West on Feb. 17, leaving both teams tied at 14-2 in league play.
"I've played against (players from West) since fourth grade," Eisenhower sophomore guard Julia Hintz said. "You know everyone and what they are going to do. It's fun ... it just shows New Berlin has really good basketball programs. It shows we are really strong."
Eisenhower's chances at a conference title seemed bleak after a 61-33 loss to Pewaukee on Jan. 21. The defeat dropped the Lions to 7-2 in the Woodland West, a full two games behind West. Knowing the Vikings were unlikely to slip up more than once before the teams met to close the regular season, Eisenhower knew it had to run the table in order to make its rematch with West meaningful.
The Pewaukee loss was also Eisenhower's fourth in a row, albeit all to state-ranked opponents. Ever since, the Lions (17-5 overall) have won eight straight and received the help they needed when the Pirates downed West on Feb. 7.
"I give a lot of credit to these girls," Eisenhower coach Gary Schmidt said. "At any given time when things were going south on them, they held the course. They had the confidence in themselves to come back. The key for us was that we had to believe in each other. You really saw that tonight. We really feed off each other."
West leads first
The two teams combined for 25 turnovers in the first half. West got out to an early 10-4 lead, but Eisenhower used a 16-5 run to go up, 20-15, on a pair of free throws by Hintz with 2:10 remaining in the half. A jumper by Olivia Canady sent the Lions into the locker room with a 24-20 advantage.
Eisenhower built its lead to 32-23 in the opening minutes of the second half and prevented West from making a serious run the rest of the way, as the Lions went 12-for-15 from the foul line in the second half.
After being outscored by 21 points from the line by the Pirates, the Lions focused on getting to the stripe. The fruits of the labor were evident against West, as Eisenhower went 25-for-30 on free-throw attempts compared to the Vikings making just 6-of-14 tries.
It proved to be a major difference in a game in which easy baskets were hard to come by.
“If you take a look back at our losing streak, one of the things that we were lacking was getting to the line,” Schmidt said. “Our opponents were getting to the line. We put a lot of emphasis on trying to turn that around. We just decided that we have to take the ball to the tin.”
Hintz led Eisenhower with 21 points and eight rebounds, drilling a pair of key second-half 3-pointers. Canady not only added 12 points, but she also limited West leading scorer Alyssa Nelson to just 8 points.
"Week in, week out, Olivia is always on the toughest opponent," Schmidt said. "She's very athletic and quick. She does those little things. She was very poised tonight. When you are chasing somebody for 30-some minutes, you are going to get tired. But she didn't look tired. She had her mental game on. Alyssa Nelson is one of the best players I've ever seen. Olivia did a nice job keeping her in check."
Ewelina Schlomann was the lone player to reach double figures for the Vikings, as she scored 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting. West shot 41.5 percent (17-for-41) from the field but committed 23 turnovers and was 4-for-17 on 3-point tries.
West is top seed
While West certainly wanted to claim the league title outright, failing to do so certainly doesn't diminish what the Vikings accomplished this season. West enters the playoffs as the top seed in its half of its sectional with a 19-3 record and a share of its first conference title since 1996-97.
If the rivals were to meet for a third time this season, it would come in a sectional semifinal March 3. However, both sides must first win two playoff games to get there.
"Ike is a good team, and we knew we were going to get their best," West coach Collin Thompson said. "They executed better than we did today. The moment got a little too big for us at times, and we were pressing. But you tell us in October we are sharing the conference title, we take that any day."