The Wauwatosa East girls basketball team improved their record to 17-7 by defeating Shorewood, 44-36, on Feb. 27 and winning the WIAA Regional Championship at Tosa East.
The Red Raiders will now move on to Milwaukee South High School to face top-ranked Pius XI (23-1) at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 3.
"I couldn't be happier for our squad to not only play well but also to earn the Regional Championship," East coach Rob Hamill said. "The last time a Tosa East girls team won a Regional Championship was during the 2000-2001 season, which was a culmination of four or five seasons of Regional Championships dating back to the 1996-97 season.
"It has been a long journey back to this plateau with a lot of ups and downs along the way, but it really comes as a result of the hard work of many people over many seasons."
Best game ever
Senior guard Bailey Berlin led the way with 20 points, as she was 6 for 9 from the free-throw line, hit two 3-pointers and distributed the ball well.
"Berlin, considering the importance of the game, probably played one of, if not the best game of her career," Hamill said. "She was composed and a leader on the floor. She made a lot of good decisions and gave the kind of effort we need on both ends of the floor.
Hamill also praised Sammy Jensen, his 6-0 senior post, for her work in the paint, and 5-10 senior forward Maya Walls for her defensive work on Shorewood star Jada Stackhouse.
"Sammy Jensen contributed excellent interior defense on their post which I think took away one of the things Shorewood counted on for much of the year. Maya Walls was on Jada Stackhouse most of the night, and even though Stackhouse had plenty of points (21), I thought Maya made her work hard for them. Much of that credit goes to Maya for that, but also her teammates' execution of our defensive plan for the game."
When Walls tired out, senior guard Tori Logan stepped in and lent a hand.
"Particularly near the end when Maya was wearing down some, Tori called for a switch for her to take over covering Stackhouse, which turned out to be pretty effective. That's just one example of the kind of senior leadership that we've had during this season. One to recognize a need, and another to agree with no ego or debate involved."
Hamill felt the game went as he expected.
"The championship game itself was the kind of battle we anticipated," he said. "We understood what Shorewood wanted to do and thought the two teams were pretty evenly matched."
The Red Raiders held a slim 19-14 lead at halftime and both teams continued to battle in the second half, with East holding a 25-22 advantage.
Shorewood was up 12-8 in the first half, but Tosa East finished the half on 11-2 run to take the lead.
Shorewood then switched from a 1-3-1 zone back to man-to-man and got on a late run and had closed the lead to 2 points with just a few minutes left when Berlin nailed a big 3-pointer from the top of the key.
"Then we got a stop on 'D' on our next possession (and) sophomore wing Liz Bueckers hit a shot from the right corner in front of our bench that in some ways was the dagger," Hamill said. "Also along the way late in this sequence we ran an out of bounds play really well that Maya got a score on. That was really it."
Hamill was pleased with the way his team handled Shorewood's comeback attempt.
"We responded to their late run and closed out the game," he said. "That to me shows the progress we've made during the year. Getting in close situations, not losing composure, and responding to find a way to win. I think that is reflective of the maturity of our seniors as basketball players — just a great win in a big game."
Hamill is pleased with his team's current attitude.
"We are a confident group right now," he said. "But also know that it doesn't get any easier from here. Of course it is just the opposite. But this is what it is all about — having the chance to play meaningful games in March."
Shorewood coach Jeff Eimers was complimentary of the Red Raiders.
"That was a nice team we lost to," he said. "They were able to hurt us and they rebounded very well ... just a very good team out of a very good conference."
Besides Berlin's 20 points, the Red Raiders had seven players score between 1 and 8 points. Walls led the way with 8 points, followed by Blackburn (5), Logan (4), Bueckers, Jensen and junior Johanna Taylor, each with 2 points, and Chyna Sincere with 1. Stackhouse led Shorewood with 21.
"These kids have created and earned some really positive memories that they will have with them for a very long time," Hamill said. "That is what I'm most happy about. I just want them to be able to look back and know that we all gave it all we had. To me that is the meaning of success and the reason why we play.
"Lay it all out there, do your best, and let the chips fall where they may. But when it's all over you know you and your teammates shared something special."