Tournament basketball can be a mystery at times, but Cudahy girls coach Bob Maronde seems to have one clue.
"We talked all week about tournament play," Maronde said, "and the key is you have to believe longer than the other team."
His team never lost that belief against top seed New Berlin West in a WIAA Division 2 regional championship game on Feb. 25, outlasting the Vikings, 58-55, in double overtime.
"We had chances to win in regulation and the first overtime, and we could have folded," Maronde said, "and these kids just kept believing."
Cudahy, which improved to 17-7 on the season with its 14th victory in 16 games, ended a marvelous season for West, which wound up 20-4 with a share of the Woodland Conference West Division championship.
"We had a great season," West coach Collin Thompson said. "It was one for the history books, the first conference championship in 21 years, led by our five seniors (Ewelina Schlomann, Morgan Henrichs, Skylar Berens, Lily Adkison and Ruwandi Wijenayake). I can't say enough about them and how proud I am of the program."
The game was made even more special by the fact that the leading players of both teams, Cudahy senior Bailey Eichner and West junior Alyssa Nelson, both stepped forward time and again in clutch moments.
Eichner finished with 18 points and scored the basket that put the Packers ahead for good in the second overtime, and Nelson tallied 32 points, scoring the basket that forced the second overtime and then nailing her sixth 3-point field goal of the night to open the second extra session.
"She took over," Thompson said. "Kids who can put the ball in the hoop take over at the end, and she definitely showed that."
The game itself was a classic, with neither team leading by more than 5 points at any time and a total of 11 ties.
Cudahy, which led much of the first half, was up 17-13 before Nelson hit a 3-pointer, a driving shot and a pair of free throws to put West up, 23-19.
The Packers, though, finished the half with 9 straight points, highlighted by a 3-point shot from Camryn Kratt and two free throws by Eichner, to go ahead 28-23 at the half.
Early in the second half, Nelson netted a 3-pointer, scored on another drive and tallied on a putback to put West back up, 32-30. Cudahy regained the advantage on a 3-pointer by Hannah Kulas and went up, 42-37, when Eichner passed to Kaytlin Sagan in the lane for a shot.
After another Nelson 3-pointer cut it to 42-40, Cudahy's Kratt scored inside to make it 44-40 with 2 minutes, 24 seconds left in regulation. The Packers then missed four free throws the rest of the way, and West took advantage with baskets by Nelson and Berens to tie it at 44-44 and force overtime.
A basket by Schlomann and free throws by Berens put West ahead, 48-46, in overtime, but Cudahy went up, 50-48, on four free throws. Kulas missed two free throws with 11.5 seconds left, however, and Nelson connected on a driving shot with 2.3 seconds remaining to force the second overtime.
West takes lead
She then drilled a 3-pointer to give West a 53-50 lead midway through the second session, but as Maronde said, the Packers did not give up. Kulas hit two free throws, and Eichner scored on a drive to put Cudahy ahead 54-53 with 1:04 left.
"That was actually a new play that we learned this week," she said. "It wasn't really supposed to go like that, but we did it, and whatever works."
Cudahy added three free throws to go up 57-53 with 26.8 seconds left; then Nelson scored on another driving shot to trim it to 57-55 with 3.7 seconds remaining.
Cudahy's Nicole Ferch hit one of two at the line, but West could only manage a long 3-point attempt that missed at the buzzer.
'In the end, it was just execution down the stretch," Thompson said. "It just came down to who made the last shot, and unfortunately for us, it was them."
Berens and Lily Adkison each scored 7 points for West. Kulas and Kratt each tallied 13 points for the Packers.
"This is an amazing group," Maronde said of the Packers. "They have come so far this season, it's unbelievable."
West reached the regional final with a 56-30 victory over ninth-seeded Waukesha North on Feb. 24.
The Vikings struggled to grab control early, leading 12-9 with 7:55 left in the first half. West extended its lead to 23-14 by halftime and pulled away in the second half.
Nelson finished with 13 points and six rebounds, and Maddie Fritz scored 13 points. Schlomann added 8 points; Henrichs had 7 points, seven rebounds and five steals, and Adkison added 6 points.