If New Berlin West's girls basketball team had failed to beat Wauwatosa West on Feb. 10, its regular-season finale would have been a winner-take-all battle for the Woodland West crown.
While the Vikings still must win one more game to take the conference outright, they grabbed a share of the Woodland West title by bouncing back from their first league loss of the season with a 61-48 win over the Trojans.
It is the first conference title for New Berlin West, ranked No. 2 in the Division 2 coaches poll, since winning the Parkland Conference in 1996-97. The Vikings will stand alone at the top of the Woodland West with a victory over Eisenhower on Friday, Feb. 17, but the Lions can grab a share of the crown with a win.
"This means a ton to our program as we have been very competitive in years past but now have found an opportunity to break through," West coach Collin Thompson said. "We had winning a conference title as our first goal coming into the year, and we have at least secured a share of it. We have our work cut out for us against Eisenhower on Friday, and our girls will be ready."
The Vikings got off to a slow start against the Trojans, trailing 31-25 at halftime. But New Berlin West found its groove in the second half, outscoring Tosa West, 36-17, to move to 19-2 overall and 14-1 in conference play.
"The first half was a bit of a struggle as we were not hitting open shots, and the girls were putting added pressure on themselves," Thompson said. "Senior night is always a tough game with all the emotions that come with it. At halftime, we refocused and got back to our fundamentals and what got us here, and that was our defense. We were able to limit Tosa West to one-shot possessions in the second half, which led to opportunities to score on the offensive end."
Ewelina Schlomann led New Berlin West with 15 points and eight rebounds. Alyssa Nelson added 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists; Maddie Fritz scored 13 points; Lily Adkison had 11 points and 11 rebounds; and Morgan Henrichs pulled down 12 rebounds.
"Early on they were able to get into the teeth of our defense with dribble penetration, but we did a much better job in the second half of not allowing that to happen as much," Thompson said. "With our defensive stops, we got confidence on the offensive end and started to knock down shots. We went on a big run to start the second half, which allowed us to build up the cushion needed."
Fall to Pewaukee
New Berlin West had its 16-game winning streak snapped with a 73-56 loss to Pewaukee on Feb. 7.
Trailing 11-8 early in the first half, Pewaukee drilled four triples during a 16-0 run that gave the Pirates at 24-11 lead with 9:19 remaining in the first half. That lead grew to 15 before a sloppy final minute allowed New Berlin West to pull to within 36-26 at halftime.
Pewaukee, ranked No. 4 in Division 2, hit 6 of 8 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half.
"It is a roadblock," Thompson said. "We knew we were going to be on the short end of the stick eventually. We just emphasized that we are playing basketball tomorrow. It is not the playoffs yet. I'm glad it happened now, so we can learn from it."
Nelson hit a 3-pointer to bring the Vikings to within 39-31, but Jinda Guidinger answered with a 3-point play, and MacKenzie Schill knocked down a triple to make it 45-31.
Pewaukee rolled from there, leading by as many as 22 points. After scoring just 43 points and shooting 12-for-46 from the field and 2-for-11 from distance in a 1-point loss to New Berlin West on Dec. 20, the Pirates shot 52.8 percent (19-for-36) and hit 8-of-11 from three against the Vikings' zone defense this time around.
"They were hitting shots early against our zone," Thompson said. "When they weren't hitting shots, they were crashing hard, especially weakside on us, to get putbacks or to the free-throw line. Our rebounding out of the zone and our ability to scatter to open shooters was just not there early, and they knocked down shots to get the run going early."
Nelson scored 25 points for New Berlin West, which had three starters foul out, including Adkison in just seven minutes on the floor.
New Berlin West will wrap up the regular season at home against Eisenhower at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17.
The Vikings received the top seed in their WIAA Division 2 regional and will have a first-round bye before hosting the winner of the game between eighth-seeded Greendale and ninth-seeded Waukesha North at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24. If New Berlin West wins against the Panthers or Northstars, it would play at home against either fourth-seeded Cudahy or fifth-seeded Whitnall on Saturday, Feb. 25, in a regional final.
But first things first, New Berlin West is looking to win the Woodland West outright by earning a season sweep of Eisenhower.
"Ike is good every year, and they scout us very well, so our key is to execute, be disciplined and keep moving offensively," Thompson said. "However, as it is every game with Ike, the key to winning is how we play defensively. We need to be able to stop what they are trying to accomplish if we want to win the game and get the sole possession of the conference title."