New Berlin West senior captain Claire Radtke knows that when the local schools get together, the Vikings have been considered the underdog whenever they face New Berlin Eisenhower.
And she loves it.
'We like being the bad guys, the underdogs when people don't give us attention,' she said following the Vikings' 50-45 win over the Lions on Jan. 5. 'We thrive on that.'
Another senior, Liz Liska, takes it a step further.
'Our conference is stacked,' she said. 'There are so many powers; they have increased competition between all of us. It is so loaded, we get passed over a little. (Eisenhower) is a great team, so any close game we have against them, it can go either way. They fight hard, we fight hard and battle to the end, always.'
Maybe West will have to lose that title soon, since the win over the Lions was the Vikings' third in a row. After losing their first meeting last year, they beat Eisenhower in the second conference meeting and the post-season.
Back and forth
West took a 28-19 lead in the first half, going on a 19-9 run to close it out, led by sophomore forward Maddie Fritz. But Eisenhower didn't give in, going on a 11-0 run to tie the game at 39-39 with 5:42 left to play. Freshman Julia Hintz had a jumper and a 3-pointer to spark the run.
West's Liska stopped the drought with a long 3-pointer at 4:04 to take a 42-39 lead. Sophomore Kate Ludwig and Hintz each hit two free throws to take the lead back, 43-32, but junior Morgan Henrichs and senior Sarah Meleski hit a shot for a 44-43 lead at 2:36.
Senior Emalie Hahn hit one of two free throws to tie it for the last time at 44-44 with 1:51 left. But then sophomore Aylssa (Chubby) Nelson scored on a drive, and Radtke and Fritz hit two free throws each, while all the Lions could manage was a free throw by senior Chelsea Brackmann.
Lions coach Gary Schmidt focused on the team's comeback.
'It's tough when you dig yourself a hole like that,' he said. 'I'm proud of my kids. They are relatively young, but they couldn't close the deal. We have to learn how to do that, and we haven't yet.'
For West coach Jeff Radtke, it was bad news (lost the lead), good news (rallied for the win).
'We lost our passion to compete and win the game for about six minutes,' he said. 'But that's a credit to what Ike did to us. They picked up the pressure. Their bigs ran the floor. They punched us in the nose. But then we regained competitive composure. Fortunately made enough plays to win the game.'
Coach Radtke was really happy about Liska's clutch play — the big 3-pointer and then key rebounds and blocks down the stretch.
'Liz is one of my couple whipping girls, I make no bones about it,' he said. 'But she won my heart tonight. As a senior, she stepped up tonight. We were fortunate three seniors made significant contributions tonight, and in big games, you need that. Liz won the 'stick award' (player of game) tonight in the locker room.'
With such a defensive battle, only three girls reached double figures. Meleski had 12 to lead all scorers, while Ludwig and Brackmann had 10 each for Eisenhower.
Fritz and Claire Radtke added 8 points each, followed by Liska (7), Nelson (6), Ewelina Schloman (6) and Lauren Kunz (3).
For Eisenhower, Kasie Erenyi (8), Hintz (7) and Emalie Hahn (5) led the rest of the scorers, while Alicia Putney (2), Jasmyn Somarsingh (2) and Hanna Plockelman (1) also got on the board.
New Berlin West had to battle the state's top team Pius XI at home Jan. 8 and dropped a 50-47 decision after leading the Lady Popes at halftime.
Nelson scored 18 of her 22 points in the first half to help West to a 28-24 lead. But the Lady Popes showed why they are the state's top team with a 26-19 run in the second half to earn the victory.
'They outexecuted us about six to eight plays,' coach Radtke said. 'We played hard and did a good job, but we had one more turnover, they made one more free throw and they had about three more little things they did that we didn't. But we competed hard and were right there at the end.'
Radtke praised the play of Nelson, whose 22 points led all scorers by seven points.
'Chubby is best secret about the state's sophomore class,' he said. 'She doesn't play AA, but she is so unassuming. Chubby's good. She's good, and she is only a sophomore.'
Claire Radtke had 11 points; Meleski and Fritz had 6 points each; and Liska had 2. West was also impressive from the free-throw line, hitting 10 of 12 (.833).
Kailey Matel led Pius with 15 points, and Kate Gardner added 13 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Mandy Szymborski led the Lady Popes with seven assists.
The Vikings travel to Greendale (2-10, 2-5) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15.