It was only fitting that the 1-2 punch of senior Chelsea Brackmann and freshman Julia Hintz made the key free throws down the stretch, but there were many heroes for New Berlin Eisenhower, who rallied from 9 points down to defeat Stoughton, 46-42, in the WIAA Division 2 State Championship game on Saturday, March 12, at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
The Lions won their second gold ball in five trips to state, also winning in 2010, to finish the season with a 23-5 record. Eisenhower ended the year with an eight-game winning streak and a 16-1 record in their last 17 games. Stoughton finished with a 25-3 record.
Coach Gary Schmidt felt he had a special group of kids.
"I really believe in my heart this is a special season for a bunch of special kids," he said. "We had a tough sectional and tough regional; we made it through the gauntlet. The thing I'm most impressed with, including tonight, we were behind late in the game or very late in the game, and somehow these kids found a way to claw back, scratch back and do everything they could and persevere to win the game."
Stoughton's coach Brad Pickett credited both teams' efforts.
"Two very good teams battling it out for a state championship, and we just came out on the short side of things," he said. "Both teams had hard-fought wins yesterday and then turned around and battled again. There's some tall kids on the floor today and a lot of length on the floor. It was a physical, grind-it-out type of game."
Never say never
But it wasn't easy for the Lions, who trailed by 9 points at 36-27 with 7 minutes and 30 seconds left to play. But like they had all season, the Lions didn't quit and quickly put together a 12-0 run to take a 39-36 lead with 5:14 left to play.
With the Vikings hanging all over Brackmann all evening, coach Gary Schmidt called on his outside arsenal, and the Lions responded by hitting seven of 15 from beyond the arc (47 percent).
Hintz started the rally by nailing a long 3-pointer, and then senior guard Abby Thyne, who had a big night in her final game, drilled another 3. Sophomore guard Katie Ludwig drove, scored and was fouled but missed the free throw.
But that turned into a bigger play when Brackmann grabbed the rebound and banked in a shot for a 37-36 lead, something they would not lose the rest of the night. Emalie Hahn closed out the run with two free throws and a 39-36 advantage.
"When we got that 9-point lead, they came back and got the two 3s," Pickett said. "They hit some clutch shots. Seven minutes left, do you want to pull the ball out and spread the floor, or do you want to keep attacking? I can't fault our team for trying to continue what we were doing well. They run their offense well. They do a nice job of running that high-low stuff. They're very patient with what they do."
Stoughton's Kendra Halverson hit two free throws, but Brackmann grabbed a pass from Hahn and scored for a 41-38 lead. Sydney Johnson scored on a drive to make it 41-40, but then Eisenhower went to the free throw.
Closing it out
After Brackmann missed two free throws, the Eisenhower defense stuffed Stoughton twice, and each time Brackmann grabbed the rebound and was fouled, and this time she sank four in a row for a 44-40 lead.
"I have no excuses for missing the first couple shots, but I knew I had to put them in," Brackmann said. "What was going through my head was that there's a chance to get the gold ball, and I need to step up."
Stoughton's Marissa Robson scored on a layup to make it 44-42, and after a timeout, the Lions inbounded the ball to Hintz who calmly drilled two free throws — between timeouts — for the final margin.
Brackmann scored 8 points in the second half after a 2-point first half and grabbed 14 rebounds. Hintz led with 12 points and three assists (both tops on the team), and Hahn scored 11 points. Robson had 12 points and eight rebounds and Hannah Hobson had 11 for the Vikings.
Hahn had special words for her teammates.
"We've been pushing all playoffs and never gave up, working with each other, believing in each other," the classy senior said. "That was our mindset every since regionals started. We knew we could do it.
I'm proud of all the young kids; they've really stepped it up. I'm glad me and my other four seniors could act like a mentor to them. I'm glad they stepped up, hit big shots, made defensive stops. It's unbelievable, and I'm very proud of them. There's great things for them coming up."
Schmidt also believed in his team.
"I could see in my kids' eyes — they never thought they couldn't win the game," he said. "The seniors got in the huddle and said it's our time now. These kids, I've been coaching for 15 years, and these kids are truly special."