New London girls’ basketball coach Andrea Flease didn’t hesitate with an answer when the question came up.
Did her team’s 68-game winning streak have anything to do with the Bulldogs’ 48-47 loss to New Berlin Eisenhower in a Division 2 state semifinal?
“I honestly don’t think that streak has anything to do with what happened tonight,” Flease said March 15 minutes after the Lions ended the Bulldogs’ season at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon in a rematch of last year’s state championship game.
“I love that we get credit for how many wins we had in a row, but I can’t put that on the team,” she said. “They fought for every game that they won. For them saying that they had a streak on their shoulders? Absolutely not. That’s not why we lost the game tonight. We lost the game because we didn’t make a play when we needed to.”
It looked at first like the Bulldogs might be well on their way to an unprecedented third straight Division 2 state title, as New London took an 11-2 lead on a pair of Amber Pethke free throws with 1:56 to go in the first quarter.
New London led 14-5 heading into the second quarter, but the Lions outscored the Bulldogs 14-7 over the next eight minutes despite trailing 21-6 at one point.
Cambria Fitzgerald had given the Bulldogs the 15-point lead with a free throw with 5:50 to go in the first half, but that would be the last point New London would score until the third quarter. The Lions closed the half with a 13-0 run and trailed 21-19 at the break.
“We came out ready to play,” Flease said. “We battled in that first quarter. The second quarter, our offense got hesitant and we didn’t do what we needed to do. The defense stayed somewhat strong, but we didn’t have the offense there.”
Neither team scored in the third quarter until Eisenhower’s Katie Lang hit a pair of free throws at the 5:03 mark to tie the game at 21-21.
Lang’s jumper gave the Lions a 23-21 lead and the Lions took a 27-26 lead into the fourth quarter.
New London’s Brenna Heise opened the final period with a three-pointer to give her team a 29-27 lead, the first of eight lead changes in the fourth quarter alone.
Another Heise three snapped a 40-40 tie with 2:22 to go in the game and her free throw gave the Bulldogs a four-point advantage with 1:13 remaining.
Eisenhower’s Jenny Weiland answered with a three of her own to make it 44-43 with 1:01 to go, but Heise’s layup on the next possession gave the Bulldogs a three-point lead with 42 seconds left.
Erin Ganzke hit a pair of free throws with 29 seconds remaining to cut New London’s lead to 46-45 and the Lions’ Chelsea Brackmann turned the ball over with 19 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs, however, couldn’t capitalize at the free-throw line, as Mickey Roland hit one of two. That opened the door for Ganzke to give the Eisenhower a 48-47 lead with 7 seconds to go on a three-point play.
That gave the Bulldogs time to set up a game-winning shot. New London inbounded the ball to Heise, but Eisenhower’s defenders trapped her about 25 feet away from the basket along the sideline and Flease called a timeout with 1.4 seconds left to regroup.
Brackmann, a freshman, made up for her earlier turnover by deflecting a pair of inbounds passes that took 0.6 of a second off the clock and forced the Bulldogs to inbound the ball near the corner of the baseline with less than a second left.
New London was able to get the ball into Fitzgerald, but her shot at the buzzer hit high off of the backboard.
“We really showed that we wanted to win the game, but didn’t make the play down the stretch,” Flease said. “I think the girls battled hard. We just didn’t come out on top.
“It’s good basketball,” she said. “You have two good teams battling out there. It’s a big stage for them and it’s impressive that both teams did hit shots back to back to back. I just can’t say enough about our girls and how proud I am that they battled back from what happened in the second quarter and throughout the second half.”
Heise, now headed to play Division 2 basketball at Michigan Tech, led all scorers with 19 points.
“My career, I couldn’t picture it any better,” she said. “I finished my high school career with four losses total on varsity, three state appearances and two gold balls. I don’t know what else I could’ve asked for. One more gold ball would’ve been nice.”
Roland added 11 points and a game-high 14 rebounds for the Bulldogs, while Weiland and Ganzke led the Lions with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
“I’ve been coaching a long time and I’d have to say this was one of the most exciting basketball games I’ve coached or maybe even watched,” Eisenhower coach Gary Schmidt said. “We obviously dug ourselves a hole early and almost didn’t know what hit us. I told our kids after we took our second timeout, ‘We have fire in our heart, we’re not quitters.’
“When a coach sees a team come back like they did tonight, especially in a game that has such huge consequences, I’m just so proud of these kids,” he added. “The whole team did a great job. I’m so excited right now I can’t stop shaking.”
Flease took a team to state in her first season after replacing Troy Krause, who made four state appearances with the Bulldogs.
“Coming in, I really didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to take it. I took the job. I knew the girls I had to work with and that’s what really got me to come here. All 13 of them that I got to work with, I know it’s sappy, but they really touched my heart and made me love the game of basketball even more than I already did.”
The Bulldogs finished 26-1 on the season, while Eisenhower went on to fall to Green Bay Notre Dame in the Division 2 title game March 16.
“We won games,” Flease said. “That’s great, but it’s not always about winning. I really built a good relationship with them and I think they got more out of the season than just W’s.”