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Wauwatosa East grabbed an early lead and had a glimmer of hope that it could shock the state girls basketball scene and upset top-ranked Pius XI, but the Lady Popes were able to showcase why they have just one loss this year in a 50-37 win over the Red Raiders in the WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal March 3 at Milwaukee South.

The Popes opened the game in typical fashion with a 3-pointer from Cassie Collins to take an early 3-2 lead, but Tosa East stormed back with a long two from Chyna Sincere, a steal and basket from Tori Logan and another basket from Bailey Berlin, taking an 8-3 lead. A series of 8 points a few minutes later led by freshman Brooklyn Blackburn saw the Raiders ahead, 16-7.

'They were running by us like we were standing still,' Pius coach Scott Herrick said. 'Our defense was not doing what it was supposed to do. We weren't rebounding, we weren't keeping our girl away from the basket, we weren't getting help and that's how they got a 7 or 9 point lead.'

It was just the start the upstart Red Raiders needed, and it wasn't a rare occurrence, either.

Trust what we've done

'That was one of the things we focused on and concentrated on: to get out to a good start and trust the things that we had been doing well during the year, playing half court defense, making a little bit happen out of that half court defense and into the offensive end,' Raiders coach Rob Hamill added. 'That's been a strong suit for us.'

But the Pius defense kicked it up a notch and began to limit the Raiders' attacking potency. Collins and Alana Perkins began to hit their 3s. Perkins sunk a 3 to tie the game at 19 shortly before halftime and then added another to lift the Popes to a 24-21 lead after the first half.

The Popes continued to pull away in the second half. Late full-court pressure from the Raiders caused Pius to turn the ball over on a few occasions, and Tosa East took some easy points, but Pius began to win the free-throw game to put the match on ice.

Bombs away

'We let some 3-shooters get on the perimeter,' said Hamill. 'We knew that when you're coming in to play these guys that they would be bombs away. If they get hot, they're going to hit them, and they hit like three in a row. I give them credit; they took advantage of what we gave them. Perkins hit three in the first half. Those were big shots. That brought them back and got them up.'

Herrick observed: 'We have to do the things we're supposed to do, and in the second half, we did that. They're good; they're good at what they do, but second half, I thought we took that away from them. First half, they were definitely the better team.'

Tosa East (17-8 overall) finished fifth in the Greater Metro Conference (7-7), and Hamill is proud of his team's accomplishments this season. Each of the top four teams competed in the sectional semifinal.

'For a team that was picked to finish last in our conference, we measured up pretty well over the course of the year,' he said. 'We went a lot further more consistently than many people would have thought, so that's to their credit. They should wake up in a day or two and look back and know they did something very positive.

'Next season, we're senior-heavy and we have a bunch of younger kids who were witness to some of the things that you need to do to build a competitive winning team, so I'm hoping that we can come with that and hit the ground running.

'A couple of younger kids really did help us out. That's going to be a big plus going into next year; we've got some experience under our belt with some of the younger kids.'