Injury, illness and scheduling conflicts left Wauwatosa East's girls basketball team not at full strength as it played its final two games of the regular season.
The Red Raiders battled through nonetheless, pulling out a 54-38 nonconference win over Waukesha North on Feb. 14 before closing out conference play Feb. 17 with a 60-49 victory over West Allis Central.
Tosa East finished in fourth place in the Greater Metro Conference at 8-6 and enters the playoffs with a 16-6 overall record.
After a first-round bye, the second-seeded Red Raiders will open the WIAA Division 2 playoffs Friday, Feb. 24 against either seventh-seeded Milwaukee Washington (9-11, 2-6 Milwaukee City-Gold) or 10th-seeded Milwaukee North (9-12, 6-5 Milwaukee City-Blue).
"I believe we are ready," Tosa East coach Rob Hamill said. "Players want to go see our potential opponents on our bye night (Tuesday, Feb. 21). They are in good spirits and continue to practice with energy. I think they are looking forward to the playoff run."
By downing Waukesha North, Tosa East finished a perfect 8-0 in nonconference games.
The Red Raiders led 31-22 at halftime before pulling away in the second half.
Junior guard Mariana Ibanez-Baldor led the Red Raiders with 12 points. Senior forward Johanna Taylor had 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, sophomore guard Sydney Halstead scored 10 points and sophomore forward Brooklyn Blackburn battled illness to score 8 points.
"We took good care of the ball; 15 total turnovers in a 36-minute game for us is pretty good," Hamill said. "Mariana Ibanez-Baldor did a nice job limiting her turnovers to just three while looking to score a bit more, which is something we have been encouraging her to do.
"Sydney Halstead had a nice second half scoring 8 of our 23 points and playing solid defense. Johanna had her usual solid performance. Others on the squad were ill and injured, so it was really good to see Mariana and Sydney step up to fill the offensive need."
Tosa East had to really adjust its rotations against West Allis Central, as Ibanez-Baldor and junior guard Evan Knauss were unavailable due to scheduling conflicts, and junior forward Anna Watry was out injured.
Fortunately, Blackburn was feeling better from the illness that slowed her earlier in the week. She scored 24 points with 12 rebounds to lead the Red Raiders, which led at halftime, 29-24, before outscoring the Bulldogs, 31-25, in the second half.
"West Allis Central was a tough game," Hamill said. "We had difficulty containing Antoinette Powell (20 points), who really hurt us with either the drive or the launched 3-point shot. She read our defense very well and made it tough.
"Blackburn was finally feeling better and had more energy and I think that showed up in her play. That was important."
Junior forward Elizabeth Bueckers scored 18 points, including going 8 for 8 from the free-throw line. Taylor nearly recorded a triple-double with nine points, 16 rebounds and six blocked shots.
"From an individual player point of view, Liz Bueckers led the way," Hamill said. "She had 10 second-half points, was 8 for 8 from the free-throw line and played tough as nails defense. She carried us.
"I think West Allis Central got a little fatigued in the face of our defense, which played well and made them work for their shots. They began to miss some shots in the latter part of the second half. Give them credit; they played hard and effectively for most of the game."
If Tosa East can win its playoff opener, the Red Raiders would host either third-seeded Whitefish Bay (13-9, 8-6 North Shore), sixth-seeded Wauwatosa West (8-14, 5-11 Woodland West) or 11th-seeded Messmer (4-18, 3-9 Midwest Classic) in a regional final Saturday, Feb. 25.