Whitefish Bay girls basketball coach Jon Schneider admits that his scrappy, defensive-minded team isn't always the prettiest to watch, but he noted that it does manage to do one thing particularly well.
The Blue Dukes improved to 6-2 overall last week by doing that twice, 38-37, over host Menomonee Falls on Dec. 22 and visiting Milwaukee Riverside, 49-48, on Dec. 20.
"We got stops when we needed them," he said after the harrowing stop victory over Falls. "We've got a lot of young kids out there, and they're still figuring out varsity speed ... but we're on the right track."
The Blue Dukes rode a four-game winning streak into the West Allis Hale tournament, Dec. 28 and 29, and will host state-ranked North Shore leader and three-time defending league champion Germantown on Wednesday, Jan. 4, in a make-up of a game scheduled for Dec. 16.
They will needed very bit of their guile and heart to pull that one off, but if they compete like they did against Riverside and Falls, they will have more than a fighting chance.
Against Falls, they were tied at 12-12 with 9:50 left in the first half but then went on an 11-1 run to go ahead, 23-13, with 2:44 left in the session. Junior guard Bailey Faulkner then hit a 3-pointer to help the Blue Dukes go up 26-18 at the break.
But the Indians, who battled foul trouble all the first half, turned stout themselves, holding Bay to a single basket in the first eight-plus minutes of the second half, as they went on an 11-2 run to take a 29-28 lead with 12:01 to go.
Finally, junior guard Ali Menard was fouled converting a layup. She finished off the three-point play with the free throw, as Bay went up 31-29 with 9:41 left. Falls went back up on back-to-back hoops from Marissa Igunbor and Jess Boerner, but when freshman post Elise Whitmoyer hit two free throws and junior guard Grace James hit a baseline jumper with 2:50 left, Bay was up 35-33 with 2:50 left.
Schneider said the 6-1 Whitmoyer is figuring things out quickly.
"She brings in a physicality and intensity that has infected the whole team," he said.
Bay got a series of stops but could not convert to expand the lead. Igunbor then made a steal for Falls, as Madison Grzesiak tied the game with a layup with 2:05 left.
The Blue Dukes missed more opportunities, but senior guard Sam Loyda hit one of two free throws to put Bay up, 36-35, with 1:07 to go. The Indians got two free throws of their own from Karly Volz with 39 seconds to go to put Falls up, 37-36. Faulkner then came up big again, hitting sophomore guard Ellie Clements with a nice pass, which she converted for what proved to be game-winning basket with 15 seconds left.
Falls took one last timeout and tried to set up a play, but the Blue Dukes did not budge as the Indians could not get a clean look at the basket before the buzzer went off.
It was a frustrating game for Indian coach Derek Woelffer, whose team fell to 3-6 on the season.
"They just wanted it more than we did," he said. "They knew it would be a statement game if they could pull it off on our home court. I give Bay credit. They scrapped and competed and just kept going. They competed and just kept going. They wanted every loose ball, every rebound.
"If we don't play together or work hard, we're going to lose games by 20. Bay simply wanted it more."
Igunbor and Volz had 8 apiece to lead Falls, while Bay was led by Menard with 9 and Clements with 8.
"Both teams played physical," Schneider said. "We knew it would come to tough physical defense ... we had to trust the defense, and we got the stop."
Bay took a 28-15 halftime lead on Riverside but then had to hang on for dear life.
"We had control of the game until late; then it became one where I really had to hold my breath at the end," Schneider said.
The Tigers got the gap to one, and the Blue Dukes missed the front end of a one-and-one. An off-the-mark half-court shot by Riverside at the buzzer is when Schneider held his breath.
Clements had 11 and Whitmoyer 9 for Bay.