By sweeping the West Allis schools, Wauwatosa East's girls basketball team has set itself up for an important 18-day stretch.
The Red Raiders put themselves in the thick of the Greater Metro Conference race and ran their winning streak to six games with a 47-43 victory over West Allis Hale on Jan. 10 and a 59-45 win over West Allis Central on Jan. 13.
At 11-2 overall and 4-2 in league play, Tosa East finds itself alone in third place in the Greater Metro Conference, one game back of second-place DSHA at 5-1 and two games behind conference-leading Sussex Hamilton at 6-0. Brookfield Central is looming at 3-3 with Brookfield East and Menomonee Falls at 3-4.
Tosa East's next six games are against those teams, leaving the Red Raiders with everything in front of them.
"Those six games in the course of 18 days is going to determine how our conference season turns out," Tosa East coach Rob Hamill said. "I think any of the teams in our conference can beat any other team on a given night. I expect each game to be a dog fight.
"The toughest academic part of the winter season is now behind us. I think we recognize the possibilities we have earned that are just ahead and are all looking forward to it."
West Allis Hale
Tosa East led the Huskies, 27-23, at halftime and held on for a 47-43 win.
Sophomore forward Brooklyn Blackburn led the Red Raiders with 13 points and nine rebounds. Senior forward Johanna Taylor had 10 points and nine rebounds; junior guard Mariana Ibanez-Baldor finished with 9 points; and junior forward Elizabeth Bueckers added 8 points and 10 rebounds.
"This was a grind-it-out type of affair," Hamill said. "Give credit to Hale. They were hungry and very active, especially defensively. It was a challenge to attack their zone. Our players seemed a bit worn down from a hard-fought conference victory last Friday (over Menomonee Falls), an emotional rivalry win over Tosa West last Saturday night and the onslaught of final projects of the academic semester."
Sydney Halstead was clutch from the foul line late in the game, making 3 of 4 attempts in the final 1 minute, 30 seconds to help Tosa East seal the win despite late defensive lapses and foul trouble.
"Sydney is mature beyond her age and showed it in those situations against Hale," Hamill said. "It is the sign of a good team to be able to find a way to victory when we were not playing at our best."
West Allis Central
The Red Raiders took a 32-22 advantage into the locker room at the break and built a 21-point lead by holding West Allis Central for nearly 10 minutes to start the second half.
West Allis Central used a 10-0 run to get back into the game, but Tosa East had an answer to come away with a 59-45 win.
"The key to this win in my view was the first 10 minutes of the second half," Hamill said. "Our play had been inconsistent during the first half. We committed too many turnovers and seemed to rush things on the offensive end. Led by Mariana Ibanez-Baldor and the interior defense of Johanna Taylor, we held WAC scoreless for a significant stretch to build our lead.
"But West Allis Central was relentless all night and played with great effort. They succeeded in cutting into the lead in the second part of the second half, but we were able to hang on to get the win."
Taylor ended up just shy of a triple-double, posting a stat line of 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Ibanez-Baldor did not commit a turnover in the second half and finished with 11 points and five assists. Blackburn added 12 points and eight rebounds.
Tosa East will have a chance to exact revenge on Brookfield East when it hosts the Spartans (8-6, 3-4 Greater Metro) for a 7:30 p.m. game Friday, Dec. 20.
Brookfield East handed the Red Raiders one of its two losses on the season with a 63-37 victory on Dec. 2 in the team's Greater Metro Conference opener. The Spartans started 3-1 in league play but have scored under 40 points in each game during a current three-game losing streak.