For Wauwatosa East's girls basketball team, a win over rival Wauwatosa West added another accomplishment to its resume in what has been a strong start to the season. And while the end result was a loss, the Trojans showed just how much they have improved from a year ago.
The Red Raiders built an early lead and withstood multiple runs, using their size advantage to dominate the glass to hold on for a 67-59 victory over the Trojans in the first game of the Battle for Tosa basketball doubleheader held Jan. 7 at Tosa West.
By following up a conference win over Menomonee Falls by downing its rival, Tosa East has won four straight to move its record to 9-2.
"We started off really strong, and that's how we've been playing a lot," Tosa East coach Rob Hamill said. "Our defense at first was really good. But having back-to-back games and it being Tosa West, anything can happen in this rivalry. They got on a run. Our theme tonight was resiliency. I thought they weathered the storm pretty well."
Tosa East used a 14-0 run to take an 18-5 lead on a layup in transition by Johanna Taylor with 11:30 left in the first half.
The Trojans responded with a 15-6 spurt to pull within 24-20, but Brooklyn Blackburn scored inside and Mariana Ibanez-Baldor connected on a 3-pointer to quickly give the Red Raiders a 9-point advantage.
Tosa West again cut the deficit down to six, but Ibanez-Baldor hit her third triple of the half just before the buzzer sounded to send Tosa East into the locker room with a 36-27 lead.
With the Red Raiders up, 43-33, Blackburn grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed 3-point attempt by Molly Persin and hit a cutting Taylor for a runner in the lane. On Tosa East's next possession, Blackburn scored on a putback off a missed jumper by Taylor to make it 47-33 with 14:34 to play.
A 3-point play by Dasia Davis pulled Tosa West to within 51-40 with 10:40 to play, and a layup by Emily Wagy made it 51-42.
Wagy scored to make it 64-57 with 1:30 remaining, but Elizabeth Bueckers helped the Red Raiders close the game out from the foul line by making 5 of 6 free-throw attempts in the final.
"We started really slow," Tosa West coach Gordon Nikolic said. "We made a run, but they made that big 3-pointer right before the half. We made another run, but we kept going one shot and out and one shot and out. They made some big plays. They were too big for us. We battled."
The Red Raiders utilized their size advantage to outrebound the Trojans, 56-29, including a 19-9 advantage on the offensive glass. Ibanez-Baldor, Bueckers and Blackburn all finished with 11 rebounds for Tosa East, and Evan Knauss, Bueckers and Blackburn each had four offensive boards.
After shooting 50 percent (15-for-30) in the first half, Tosa East was just 9-for-31 (29.0 percent) from the field and 1-for-6 from beyond the arc in the second half. Fifteen of the Red Raiders' 19 offensive rebounds came in the second half when they were struggling to shoot the ball, allowing multiple shot attempts per possession.
Blackburn led Tosa East with 19 points, while Bueckers went 11-for-12 from the line to finish with 17 points. Taylor added 11 points, and Ibanez-Baldor scored all 9 of her points in the first half.
"Maybe we let down a little bit because we thought, 'Hey, this is how it is going to be,'" Hamill said. "They weren't going to go away. They were scrappy, and they were organized. We knew we would be facing a lot of zone tonight, and we haven't played a lot of games against zone. We've been practicing against a zone in anticipation for tonight.
"We did some things alright, but we have to do a little better coming to the passes, making sharp passes and then running the pattern all the way through. Sometimes we began to freelance a bit while they were coming back, and we have to get out of that habit."
The loss dropped the Trojans to 4-7, but Tosa West continued to show the progress it has made in Nikolic's first season at the helm. Its performance Jan. 7 was a far cry from a 46-25 defeat it was handed by Tosa East in a regional game at the end of last year.
Wagy paced Tosa West with 18 points. Emma Elliott scored 11 points, and Davis finished with 10 points.
"We are getting better," Nikolic said. "We know that if we see them in the regional that we have a shot to knock them off. We have to make shots and rebound a little better. I'm super proud of my kids. They battled."