LA CROSSE — Black Hawk will be heading to Green Bay this weekend with nothing but gold on their minds.
After falling to Bangor in last year’s Division 5 state championship game, the Lady Warriors have had nothing on their collective minds but a return trip to the Resch Center for another shot at a state title.
The Warriors (26-0 overall) punched their ticket back to the WIAA State Girls’ Basketball Tournament for a second straight season after rolling over the Independence Indees, 70-39, in a Division 5 sectional final game held at La Crosse Central High School on Saturday, March 2.
“All you can ask for is an opportunity. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but these kids have worked so hard to get back here and they deserve the opportunity. We are looking forward to going up there and seeing what we can do,” said Black Hawk head coach Michael Flanagan after leading the Lady Warriors to a fifth sectional title in his 13th year at Black Hawk.
Black Hawk, which has been ranked #1 in D5 the entire season, received the top-seed for the state tournament and will face fourth-seeded Fall River (24-3, ranked #5 in latest Wissports.net State Coaches’ Poll) in a state semifinal game in Green Bay on Friday, March 8. Tip-off is set for 9:05 a.m. on Friday morning.
The Pirates return to state for the first time since 2016 when they defeated the Warriors in the regional final round on the way a state berth. Fall River also knocked off Black Hawk in a regional final game in 2017.
Second-seed Clayton (26-0, #2-ranked) will meet third-seed Newman Catholic (24-3, #4-ranked) in the other state semifinal game, scheduled for 10:45 a.m. on Friday.
The Bears are back at state for the fourth year in a row, while the Cardinals are back for a second straight season. Clayton lost to eventual champion Bangor, 57-54, in last year’s state semifinal round, and Newman fell to the Warriors, 57-31, in their semifinal contest.
The D5 State Championship game will be played on Saturday, March 9, starting at 11:05 a.m.
“It feels great to get back to state,” stated forward Sydney Delzer, who is one of Black Hawk’s two senior players. “For me and Mia (Jackson), this is our last chance to do anything as far as basketball goes, so to get back to state and get another chance at a gold ball is huge.”
Delzer put Black Hawk into the lead to stay when she nailed a short jumper just seconds into Saturday’s game. Junior Natalie Leuzinger and sophomore Bailey Butler knocked down early 3-pointers to put the Warriors up 12-2 just over two minutes into the contest, and they never looked back.
An “and-1” three-point play by B. Butler and another trey by Leuzinger extended the lead out to 22-7 midway through the first half.
The Indees (18-5) got back within 10 during a quick 5-0 burst with around 10 minutes remaining in the half, but the Warriors took advantage of the Indees’ foul woes by closing the half on a 19-4 run to build up a 41-16 advantage. Black Hawk scored 11 of those 19 points from the foul line during the run and added a pair of layups off turnovers as their relentless full court pressure started getting to the Indees at the end of the half.
“We didn’t turn them over much with the press early, but even when we weren’t getting turnovers we sped them up and we were able to wear them down. They never looked real comfortable out there,” Flanagan pointed out. “Their fouls were big too since they had three of their primary players in foul trouble. When Sydney got a steal and layup with two minutes to go, I felt that was a sign that they were worn out physically and mentally.”
Sophomore center Ziyanna Conner gave Independence a bit of a boost with a basket to start off the second half, however the Warriors erased any thoughts of a comeback by reeling off nine of the next 11 points to push the lead out to 50-20.
“Independence is a good, well-coached team. We knew their (post) players could give us some trouble. It came down to doing the things we always believe in. We had some kids step up in big moments. I thought at junctures when we were a little shaky, somebody would hit a big shot for us,” said Flanagan.
Five different players hit 3-pointers in the second half, including triples off the bench from sophomores Kaylee Marty and Macie Stauffacher, to keep the Warriors comfortably in the lead as they ran away with a 31-point victory on the way to earning the fifth state tournament berth in program history.
“This feeling is just amazing. Independence is a really good team,” said Leuzinger. “Last year was a fun weekend in Green Bay, and I hope this weekend will be more fun.”
Leuzinger finished with a game-high 22 points after sinking three of the team’s eight 3-pointers, and she also registered five rebounds and four assists for the Warriors.
B. Butler tallied 19 points, five rebounds, four assists and a team-high six steals, while her sister, junior Hannah Butler, chipped in with eight points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals for Black Hawk.
Marty added seven points with Delzer and junior Kristen Knapp scoring four points apiece in the win.
“We’ll savor this today, and then it’s back to business,” commented Flanagan.
Conner scored 11 points off the bench for the Indees before fouling out midway through the second half. Junior Brianna Truog hit three 3s and matched her teammate with 11 points.
The Indees’ leading scorer, senior Lynnsey Tuschner, was limited to just seven points– all in the second half– but also led her team with 12 rebounds and five assists.
Senior Nicole Filla added six points for the Indees, who were the champions of the Dairyland Small Conference.
Black Hawk advanced to Saturday’s sectional final by running down #3-ranked River Ridge, 58-27, in a D5 sectional semifinal battle of the Six Rivers Conference champions held at Mineral Point High School on Thursday, Feb. 28.
The Six Rivers East champion Warriors used a pair of 10-0 scoring bursts in the first half to build up a comfortable cushion on the Six Rivers West champion Timberwolves (21-3).
The teams were knotted at 5-5 until Flanagan’s squad pulled ahead with their first 10-0 run, and then extended their lead out to 27-9 with their second 10-0 spurt.
Junior Maddy Huschitt buried a 3 during each run, while H. Butler netted nine of the team's points during the combined 22-4 run to help the Warriors put the T’Wolves in a big hole.
“You know a team like River Ridge is going to keep coming at you, so you never feel too comfortable. They made us work for everything on the offensive end. We left a lot of unfinished baskets early, but we stayed positive with the kids and we continued to be tenacious on the glass. Our offensive rebounding was a big part of this game for us. Hannah was one of the best examples of persistence on the glass. She’s so hard to blocked out,” remarked Flanagan.
The Warriors did a good job of limiting the T’Wolves to a single shot on most possessions throughout the night, and they also took advantage of early foul trouble for two of the Wolves’ best players– senior Taylor Langmeier and junior Skylar White– to build up a 32-11 halftime advantage.
White scored all 10 of her team-high points in the second half, which was nine points below her season average; while Langmeier finished with eight points, which is also nine points below her average.
B. Butler made up for her first-half shooting woes by hitting her first three shots of the second half to increase the Warriors’ lead to 25 points.
H. Butler and Leuzinger each sank a 3 and a couple of free throws to keep the Warriors well ahead, and then Leuzinger poured in Black Hawk’s final 11 points to finish off the Wolves.
Leuzinger led the way with 21 points, five rebounds and three assists. H. Butler followed with 16 points and eight rebounds, while B. Butler finished with nine points, nine rebounds, six steals and four assists.
Huschitt added eight points and three assists for the Warriors, who have outscored their first five playoff opponents by an average of 45 points per game heading into the state tournament. Black Hawk is averaging 71 points on offense and just 26 points on defense in the post-season.
WIAA DIVISION 5 SECTIONAL FINAL
Black Hawk………. 41 29 – 70
Independence…… 16 23 – 39
Black Hawk – Bailey Butler 19, Hannah Butler 8, Kristen Knapp 4, Natalie Leuzinger 22, Kaylee Marty 7, Macie Stauffacher 3, Maddy Huschitt 3, Sydney Delzer 4. Totals – 23 16-20 70.
Independence – Truog 11, Warner 4, Tuschner 7, Filla 6, Conner 11. Totals- 13 9-16 39.
3-point goals– BH 8 (B. Butler 2, Leuzinger 3, Marty 1, Stauffacher 1, Huschitt 1), I 4 (Truog 3, Filla 1). Total fouls– BH 14, I 18. Fouled out– I: Conner.
WIAA DIVISION 5 SECTIONAL SEMIFINAL
Black Hawk………. 32 26 – 58
River Ridge………. 11 16 – 27
Black Hawk – Bailey Butler 9, Hannah Butler 16, Natalie Leuzinger 21, Maddy Huschitt 8, Sydney Delzer 4. Totals – 23 6-12 58.
River Ridge – Schier 3, White 10, Langmeier 8, Breuer 4, Mason 2. Totals – 9 6-8 27.
3-point goals– BH 6 (H. Butler 2, Leuzinger 2, Huschitt 2), RR 3 (White 2, Langmeier 1). Total fouls– BH 14, RR 13. Fouled out– RR: White.