MONROE – Black Hawk had their sights set on a trip to the WIAA State Girls’ Basketball Tournament for the fourth year in a row, but the Warriors’ path to Madison was blocked by conference rival Barneveld in an electrifying Division 5 sectional semifinal game at the jam-packed Monroe High School gym on Thursday, March 15.
Barneveld freshman Rachel Slaney came up big at the foul line when her team needed her most, hitting 5-of-6 free throws in the final 36.4 seconds to lift the #4-ranked Golden Eagles over the #5-ranked Lady Warriors, 43-40, in the rubber-match between the Six Rivers East co-champions.
Slaney, who missed her first three foul shots in the fourth quarter, sank a pair of free throws with 25.7 seconds to play in the game to put the Eagles (23-4 overall) ahead 42-39; and then added one of two free throws with :09.4 remaining to up her team’s lead to 43-40.
Black Hawk sophomore Jen Wellnitz rebounded Slaney’s miss on her second attempt and drove the ball down the court, but the Warriors (22-3) couldn’t get a timeout called to set up a final shot nor could they convert either of their last-ditch shot attempts as their season came to a heartbreaking end.
“We were calling a timeout, but the officials didn’t see me or hear me. We had a play we wanted to run from the sideline and we had plenty of time, but for whatever reason we couldn’t get the timeout,” said Black Hawk head coach Mike Flanagan. “We were begging for it as soon as the ball got to half-court. Sometimes you don’t get it. Even if we get the timeout, it would have taken a big shot to tie the game.”
And, unfortunately, the shots weren’t falling with any regularity for Black Hawk in the second half.
After senior guard Chaesta Shager tied the score at 24 all on a 3-pointer with just over five minutes to play in the third quarter, the Warriors managed just two more shots over the final 13 minutes of the game, and they were held without a made field goal over the last 5:26 of play.
The Warriors stayed with the Eagles by connecting on 10 of their 13 foul shots over the final five minutes of play, but the Eagles countered by converting six of their nine free throws over the last 54 seconds of the game to hang on for the victory.
“Barneveld just made more shots than we did. They made more plays and came up with some big 3s (in the second half). We went through a couple of scoring lulls that really hurt us,” Flanagan admitted.
Black Hawk opened strong, ending the first quarter with 10 unanswered points to open up the largest lead for either team on the night at 12-5. Seniors Kayla Meier and Kate Quinn each knocked down two buckets for the Warriors during the 10-0 run.
Barneveld whittled the deficit down to 17-15 by halftime after doubling up the Warriors in the second quarter, 10-5, behind four points apiece from Slaney and junior Madison Laube.
Shager opened the third quarter with a trey to extend Black Hawk’s lead to 20-15, but 3-pointers by Laube and Hailey Kleppe sandwiched between a three-point play by Slaney thrust the Eagles into the lead at 24-21.
Shager tied the score at 24 with another 3, however back-to-back baskets by Shelby Meyer and Laube put Barneveld back into the lead to stay.
The Eagles pulled ahead 33-28 on a 3-pointer by senior Hailey Cannoy with 6:32 remaining. Meier brought the Warriors back within three when she scored a basket while being fouled.
The senior missed the free throw but Wellnitz boarded the miss, got fouled on the putback and converted both free throws to bring the Warriors within a point at 33-32 with 5:22 to play.
Black Hawk stayed within a basket of the Eagles for much of the remainder of the game and they pulled back within a point twice in the final 38 seconds, but they could never overtake the Eagles down the stretch.
“Every time it looked like there was a chance we could take the lead, they would hit a big shot or else we would make a mistake with the basketball. We had a couple of uncharacteristic unforced turnovers that led to their runs,” stated Flanagan.
Those turnovers– 17 for the Warriors on the night, including six in the fourth quarter alone– could be traced to the foul troubles which plagued Black Hawk for much of the game.
Starting senior guard Katie Powers, who scored 11 points in the Lady Warriors’ 43-32 win over Barneveld on Feb. 11 and five points in a 52-32 loss to the Eagles on Feb. 17, was whistled for two fouls less than 90 seconds into Thursday’s sectional game and was held scoreless in limited action.
Wellnitz also had to sit for a time after getting her fourth foul with 4:49 to play, allowing the Eagles to go more aggressive on defense which led to three straight turnovers during a three-minute scoreless streak for Black Hawk.
“Fouls were a factor. We had to take Powers out quite a bit, and as soon as (Jen) went to the bench they extended their pressure and we had that stretch of turnovers without her on the floor. I give a lot of credit to our opponent. They just made more plays than us,” said Flanagan.
Wellnitz finished with 12 points to lead the Warriors, while Quinn chipped in with 11 points followed by Meier with nine and Shager with eight to account for all the team’s scoring on the night.
“When we have lost this season, the common theme has been that we have been in foul trouble and played different because of it. But, that’s the game of basketball,” Flanagan commented. “A couple of kids got into situations that were hard to avoid and some that were avoidable. It’s about making good decisions sometimes.”
Slaney led the Eagles with a game-high 16 points and Laube added 12 for the purple-and-gold.
The season came to an end for Coach Jim Myers’ Barneveld Golden Eagles in the D-5 sectional final game at Fort Atkinson on Saturday, March 17, as the #6-ranked Milwaukee Heritage Christian Patriots used a 16-3 third quarter run to extend their 28-18 halftime lead and run away with a 59-38 decision for their first-ever state berth.
Thursday’s loss was the first for Black Hawk shy of the state tournament since 2008, but according to Coach Flanagan it shouldn’t dampen what his team achieved this year or the legacy this year’s seniors leave behind.
“It may take a week or a month to get over it, but eventually they’ll look back at what they’ve done with pride,” said Flanagan, who has led the Warriors to four straight conference titles and six consecutive sectional appearances in his six seasons as their coach. “You can set the bar that is really so high that it’s almost unattainable. You can’t get to state every year. You’d certainly like to, but you can’t. We wanted to get back there and we felt we had a chance to get back there, but it didn’t happen. I’m proud of our kids and proud of our seniors.”
Those seniors leave the program as some of the most highly decorated players in the history of Black Hawk girls’ basketball. Chaesta Shager and Katie Powers were three-year varsity players for Coach Flanagan’s squad, while Kate Quinn and Kayla Meier were two-year varsity performers.
The four were members of three conference champion teams, three regional champion teams, two sectional champion teams and a state runner-up team which combined to post a 75-6 overall record on the hardwood. This season alone, the four seniors accounted for 667 of the team’s 1,105 points.
“They’ve been a very, very unsung yet productive group. They have helped set a pretty high bar at Black Hawk. The underclassmen are going to need to push hard to try and attain those same successes,” boasted Flanagan about his seniors.
“You have to put it in perspective. There are a lot of teams out there and a lot of kids who would like to win one conference championship or a regional championship just once in their career, and these kids have done it multiple times. You have to be thankful for what you get, and you have to be gracious in victory and defeat.”
WIAA D5 SECTIONAL SEMIFINAL
Black Hawk… 12 5 9 14 - 40
Barneveld...... 5 10 15 13 - 43
Leading Scorers: Jen Wellnitz 12, Kate Quinn 11, Kayla Meier 9, Chaesta Shager 8.