SOUTH WAYNE – There was no boisterous celebration on the home court by Black Hawk following their conference title clinching victory over Juda on Thursday night– even though this one may have meant a little more to this year’s players than their previous three titles did.
After fighting tooth-and-nail with a hardnosed Juda team for 32 gut-wrenching minutes and rallying from a four-point deficit over the final four and a half minutes to secure the win, the Lady Warriors simply didn’t have the energy for any of that. They had left it all on the court.
Fourth-ranked Black Hawk locked up a share of their fourth straight Six Rivers Conference Eastern Division championship by sinking 10 of their final 13 attempts from the foul line in the fourth quarter to skin the Panthers, 33-26, in their regular season finale at BHHS on March 1.
“It’s special for this group because of the doubts that many people had of them,” said Black Hawk head coach Mike Flanagan. “(A title) wasn’t chalked up for us the last three years by any means, but a lot of people pegged us as the favorites those years. To come into the season with the turnover we had, losing all the scoring we did and all the experience we did, and for this group of kids to find a way to win conference says a lot about them and it says a lot about our program.”
After having their 33-game conference winning streak snap at Barneveld on Feb. 17, Coach Flanagan knew his team would have to get by Juda in the finale just to earn a share of the title, and he knew that it would not be an easy task.
Boy, was he right.
The Panthers (15-7 overall, 7-5 in SRE) flexed their defensive muscles by rallying from an early 6-0 deficit to take a 21-17 lead into the fourth quarter. The lead was still at four with 4:29 remaining after Amber Ramos hit one of two free throws to put the Panthers up 25-21, but the Warriors weren’t about to give up their title without a fight.
Sophomore Jen Wellnitz sank a pair of free throws with 4:23 on the clock and senior Kate Quinn followed with a putback with just under four minutes to play to erase the Panthers lead.
University of North Dakota recruit Ellen Kiser gave Juda their final lead at 26-25 with a free throw at the 3:17 mark, but Quinn would knot the game at 26 all moments later and Wellnitz would add two free throws with 2:25 to go to put Black Hawk back into the lead to stay.
The Warriors, who went just 3-of-11 at the charity stripe through the first three quarter, got free throws from Wellnitz (two), senior Katie Powers (two) and senior Chaesta Shager (one) over the final minute of play to seal their share of the conference title with their 32nd consecutive victory on their home court.
“There’s no switch to flip, but when you have kids on the floor who have been in big games before they recognize the moment and find a way to persevere,” explained Flanagan. “We persevered through a lot of things in this game. We persevered through foul trouble. We persevered through cold shooting. We persevered through poor free throw shooting. And, in the end, we found a way to make plays.”
Wellnitz went 6-for-6 at the line and scored eight of her game-high 14 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Warriors, and she added 14 rebounds (12 defensive) for a double-double along with three assists and two steals.
Quinn chipped in with eight points and four boards, while Meier followed with six points and six rebounds for Black Hawk. Shager led the team with three steals, and Powers added four points and five boards.
“You can look at our championship banners and not see four years in a row very often– if ever. It’s tough because by that point the kids that won the first one are no longer here,” Flanagan noted. “This one belongs to these kids. They went out and got it.”
Kiser led the Panthers with 12 points.
Black Hawk was forced to share the title with Barneveld after the Golden Eagles (19-3, 11-1) went out and secured their own share of the conference crown on Thursday night by routing Pecatonica, 57-31, in Blanchardville.
The top-seeded Lady Warriors opened the playoffs at home against #16 Green Lake (3-16) on Tuesday evening. The results of that game were not available at press time.
With a win, the Lady Warriors would host either #8 Rio (14-8) or #9 Central Wisconsin Christian (12-10) in South Wayne on Friday, March 9. Black Hawk would also host the regional final on Saturday, March 10, with a win on Friday.
Juda....…..…… 4 8 9 5 - 26
Black Hawk…. 9 4 4 16 - 33
Leading Scorers: Jen Wellnitz 14, Kate Quinn 8, Kayla Meier 6, Katie Powers 4, Chaesta Shager 1.