Grafton girls hang tough but can’t catch Eisenhower in sectional loss that snaps three-year run to Madison
There wasn’t much more the Grafton girls’ basketball team could have done last Saturday to give itself a shot at securing a fourth straight trip to the WIAA state tournament.
Despite hanging tough for four quarters, the Black Hawks couldn’t continue their postseason magic during a 62-54 loss to New Berlin Eisenhower in a Division 2 sectional title game at Waukesha South.
Besides ending the Hawks’ defense of their state title, the defeat snapped a six-game winning streak that had buoyed their hope of booking another appearance in Madison.
“It was a great game. We did everything we could to win it, so I don’t have any complaints,” said Grafton coach Bob Maronde, whose team trailed most of the contest but kept battling to the end.
“We had to match Eisenhower’s intensity to give ourselves a chance, and we did that most of the game.”
After trailing, 50-41, with just more than three minutes to play, the Hawks dug down for their final rally. Abbey Benzschawel sparked the comeback by scoring six of her game-high 17 points in the quarter, as Grafton pulled within 54-49 with 1:08 left.
However, Eisenhower showed why it’s one of the state’s top Division 2 teams by countering the Hawks’ late flurry with steady offensive pressure. Coach Gary Schmidt’s team pounded the ball inside down the stretch and forced Grafton to play a chase-and-foul game as it scrambled to cut the deficit and stop the clock.
In the final period, Eisenhower had only two field goals but went 15-for-21 at the free-throw line. Nicole Bauman, a senior guard, did most of the work by hitting nine of 11 foul shots in the quarter.
Throughout postseason play, Grafton had success slowing the pace and held opponents to fewer than 40 points in each of four straight wins. However, the Lions (24-2) broke the mold with an up-tempo approach that kept them in control.
Kali Shandley, a 5-foot-9-inch swing player, led Eisenhower with 17 points, and forward Anna Hahn and Bauman had 16 and 14, respectively.
“They’re really athletic, which causes problems,” Maronde said of the Lions. “They like to push the ball and know who to get the ball to.
“They keep pressure on you, which makes it tough.”
Eisenhower was poised to take a six-point lead into halftime only to have Benzschawel toss in a 30-foot shot at the buzzer that pulled the Hawks within 24-21. The junior forward drew Grafton even at 24-all by hitting a three-pointer to start the third quarter, but the Lions
countered with a 10-2 run that gave them a 34-26 lead.
“That third-quarter run did us in,” Maronde said. “We were in position to take the lead, but we had some turnovers and missed shots that put us behind again.”
In addition to Benzschawel, Grafton got clutch scoring from several other players.
Senior center Myranda Tyler collected nine of her 13 points in the second half, when she went 7-for-7 at the foul line.
Sophomore Carley Pfannerstill had nine points on a trio of three-point baskets, and senior Ali Lorge added six points.
However, Grafton was unable to get enough defensive stops to overtake the Lions, who scored 38 second-half points.
“We just made too many mistakes and that killed us,” Tyler said.
“They were athletic and well-prepared and seemed to take advantage every time we missed a shot or turned the ball over.”
Benzschawel, who played perhaps the best game of her career, was equally impressed by the Lions but said she never doubted her team’s ability to score an upset.
“We always thought that we could come back and win it, but we didn’t get enough stops,” Benzschawel said. “We played so well late in the season and in the tournament that we believed we could win.”
The Hawks finished the season with a 16-10 record that included seven wins in its last eight games. They will lose five players to graduation — Tyler, Lorge, Kaitlyn Brandenburg, Christie Collins and Emily Van Langen — but will have Benzschawel back next season along with
most of a sophomore-dominated roster that includes standout Hannah Eichler.
“I’m really proud of this team and the way it came together,” said Maronde, whose team had won two Division 2 state titles in the past three years.
“The seniors gave us the leadership we needed, and we have a lot of young players who gained valuable experience.”
Eisenhower, which avenged a loss to Grafton in a Division 2 sectional final in 2007, earned its second trip to Madison and its first since 1988.
The Lions will play Altoona (18-9) in the state semifinals Friday.
GRAFTON’S HANNAH EICHLER and a teammate consoled each other following a 62-54 loss in a sectional title game Saturday that eliminated their team from the WIAA girls’ basketball tournament. At right, Ali Lorge drove past a New Berlin Eisenhower defender. Photos by Sam Arendt