Eichler-sparked rally lifts Grafton girls to stunning win that snaps Nicolet’s NSC streak, tightens race for league championship
What a difference half of a basketball season can make.
When the defending state champion Nicolet Knights faced the Grafton girls’ team in December, they had little trouble posting a 47-37 win.
But the worm turned big time last Friday when a more confident, poised group of Grafton players rallied to stun the Knights, 51-46, in a North Shore Conference rematch.
Besides avenging a loss, the win kept the Black Hawks in the thick of the NSC title chase. They improved to 9-2, one game behind co-leaders Nicolet and Whitefish Bay (both at 10-1) with three games left for each team.
“The first time we played Nicolet, we came out nervous and tight and dug ourselves a hole,” said Grafton coach Bob Maronde, whose team scored its seventh straight victory and snapped the Knights’ 44-game conference winning streak.
“This time, Nicolet came out and hit some threes, but our girls didn’t back down. We kept attacking them, and it paid off.”
Senior guard Hannah Eichler, whose strong play has been crucial to Grafton’s current surge, almost single-handedly turned the game in her team’s favor. She scored a game-high 23 points, including 14 straight in the fourth quarter when the Hawks overcame a 35-32 deficit with a 19-11 run.
Eichler did most of her work at the free-throw line, making 14 of 18 attempts after drawing fouls with hard drives to the basket.
“Hannah kept going to the basket. You could tell how much she wanted to win,” Maronde said. “In the fourth quarter, she was unstoppable.”
Nicolet appeared headed for its 45th straight league win in the first quarter when it grabbed a 15-6 lead. The Knights maintained a 28-22 advantage at halftime on the strength of five three-point baskets, but Maronde said his team sensed it was time for a rally.
“We were only down six points, and we talked about all the bunnies and layups we missed,” he said. “We knew we could come back.”
Tightening up their perimeter defense, the Hawks allowed only 18 points the rest of the game. They pulled within easy striking distance heading into the fourth quarter, when Eichler took over.
“Hannah played a great game, and we also had some other people step up big,” said Maronde, who singled out Zoie Bauer for her backcourt defense and Kim Schacht for her front-line contributions.
Schacht scored nine points and was one of five Grafton players who each hit a three-point shot.
Nicolet, which fell to 16-2 overall, was led by guard Brittney Fair’s 21 points.
The Hawks were the last team to beat Nicolet in an NSC game before the streak started, and Friday’s thriller underscored the legitimacy of their current roll.
“I think it’s because we’re more experienced now and have continued to improve,” Maronde said. “The girls have a mind-set that they can find a way to win even when things aren’t going well.”
Grafton will need another hard-fought win this week in order to stay in title contention. On Thursday, the Hawks will travel to Whitefish Bay for a 7:30 p.m. showdown that will help decide the championship.
Bay edged Grafton, 28-24, on Jan. 6, and will again try to dictate the tempo with a slow, methodical offense and nose-to-nose defense.
“We have to stick with what we do — pressure them but stick with our defensive principles,” Maronde said. “We have to be fundamentally sound and take advantage of our offensive chances when we have them.”
The game will be the Hawks’ last until Feb. 24, when they host Port Washington.
Grafton 43, Delavan-Darien 30
Sam Gosewehr’s game-high 13 points helped the Hawks secure a nonconference road win last Saturday.
The junior center had nine points in the second quarter when Grafton used a 17-11 run to build a 24-15 lead by halftime.
“The effort was great, but our timing wasn’t there,” Maronde said. “Coming off an emotional game against Nicolet, it was very tough for the girls to be focused the next day.”
Strong defense helped the Hawks notch their eighth straight win and improve to 14-4 overall. Delavan-Darien was held to single digits in the first, third and fourth quarters and didn’t have anyone score in double figures.
Schacht and Eichler had eight and six points, respectively.
Grafton 58, Greendale 31
A big third quarter carried the host Hawks to a lopsided nonconference win Feb. 7.
After grabbing a 17-7 lead in the first quarter, Grafton saw Greendale rally to within 25-20 by halftime.
However, the Hawks regained control with a 21-6 run in the third period that put them comfortably ahead.
Eichler scored a game-high 18 points for the winners, and Schacht added 13.
Olivia Surita’s 11 points led Greendale.
Image Information: SAM GOSEWEHR of Grafton took the ball inside for two points during her team’s North Shore Conference win over defending champion Nicolet. Grafton trailed most of the game before rallying in the fourth quarter for a 51-46 victory. Photo by Sam Arendt