Sophomore standout goes off for 27 despite fouling out

Waterford players celebrate after a hard-fought victory Friday night as Demon players walk off the court in agony. (Rick Benavides/SLN)


By Mike Ramczyk

BURLINGTON – Despite a 7-15 record, the Waterford girls varsity basketball team outscored its opponents, just barely, during the regular season.

What better time than the postseason to have the law of averages finally decide to work in your favor – especially against your conference rival.

Just three days after opening the Division 2 WIAA playoffs with a triple-double, Waterford sophomore Katie Rohner gave an encore performance of 27 points, and the sixth-seeded Wolverines overcame a buzzer-beater to send the game into overtime and upset No. 3 Burlington, 46-42, Friday night in a regional semifinal.

After two losses in the regular season, Waterford found a way to finally beat the Demons, who finished the season 15-8 and enjoyed their best season in decades with a second-place conference finish. The Wolverines will hope the third time’s a charm once again Saturday night in a regional final at conference champion Union Grove (19-4), which won, 66-40, on Friday.

Rohner set the tone early, as she erupted for 13 first-half points. Waterford jumped out to a 9-2 lead and took a 22-15 lead into the break.

“That was intense. I don’t know if we’ve ever had that intensity level all year,” Waterford coach Dena Brechtl said. “We had a couple of kids who had to play big minutes. Hats off to Burlington for making that shot (to send it into overtime) and hats off to us for answering first.”


Matson’s buzzer beater sends it to OT

Burlington looked like a different team, with much more energy in the second half, and had a chance to win after a thrilling buzzer-beater sent the game into overtime.

With 5.7 seconds left in the second half, Burlington senior Jessa Burling, who was held to 12 points, set a screen at the top of the key for junior Caitlyn Matson, who banked home a triple to tie the game at 37-37 as time expired, sending it into overtime.

Rohner opened the extra frame with a bucket, but Matson answered with a three to give Burlington its first lead of the game. But Rohner eventually hit her third 3-pointer to give Waterford a 43-40 lead before she fouled out after attempting to take a charge on Burling with 50 seconds to go.

But senior point guard Maddy Anderson took over, stepping up as the vocal leader and knocking down two clutch free throws with seconds left to seal the victory.

Conversely, the Demons only hit 10-of-25 free throws for the game, and missed some key opportunities late in the game.

Rohner, who scored 25 points and had 11 steals and 10 rebounds against Elkhorn Tuesday, wouldn’t be denied Friday night as she continues to blossom into a star player.

“It feels so good,” Rohner said. “Especially when in conference games, we were so close. We felt we were going to go out here and do something great, even if it wasn’t winning. After the buzzer beater went in, I wasn’t defeated and wasn’t giving up on my team. I had good support from the teammates. This is my last year with these girls, and I want to make it the best I can.”

For Burlington coach Mary Parker, it was a difficult way to end the season.

“It always hurts, it’s a tough one to go out on,” she said. “They played with a lot of energy, and we missed way too many free throws. In the second half, we talked about going all out, and we did and we were able to get back into it. We just didn’t finish it out.”

“In overtime, offensively we weren’t executing well and finishing around the rim. We stopped playing in transition, and we were back to being hesitant like we were in the first half, and it stopped out momentum.”

After Caitlyn Matson (15) buried a bank-shot 3-pointer as time expired in regulation, her teammates were fired up. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

Fitzgerald, Rohner play D late, Demons miss chances

The tallest player on the court, 6-foot-1 Waterford sophomore Kathleen Fitzgerald, made her presence known defensively, executing key blocked shots late in the game. Brechtl said Fitzgerald played her most minutes of the season.

It was 31-30 Waterford for two minutes before a Rohner steal and weaving layup made it 33-30 with three minutes left. Burlington sophomore Amelia Crabtree and Waterford’s Annie Benavides traded buckets before a Burling breakaway layup cut the lead to 35-34 with 1:46 left in regulation.

Then, Cora Anderson, who scored 10 points for the Demons and played aggressively inside, maneuvered to the hoop but was emphatically rejected by the taller Fitzgerald, something she did to Anderson a few minutes earlier.

Waterford sophomore Katie Rohner scored 27 points Friday, including five of her team’s nine points in overtime. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

With less than a minute remaining, Amelia Crabtree had a strong layup attempt rim out before Burling came up with another steal and raced down the court. With 20 seconds remaining, she went coast-to-coast for a lefty layup and the lead, but this time it was Rohner who came up with a key blocked shot.

The possession before Matson’s buzzer-beater, with roughly 15 seconds left and Burlington down 37-34, Cora Anderson missed two free throws, but Crabtree grabbed the offensive rebound. She drove hard and kicked to a wide open Cassidy Askin, whose 3-pointer was a bit too strong.

Burling, who had to fight through double and triple teams much of the night, finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and three assists. Matson scored 12 points, all on 3-pointers.

“It’s a little surreal,” said an emotional Burling, who finishes an illustrious career as the Demons’ all-time leader in points, rebounds and assists. “It was a tough game, we did our best, but it obviously wasn’t the outcome we wanted. We started a little slow, and we amped it up in the second half.”

“We got up a little bit right away in overtime, but they hit some big shots, and we just couldn’t keep up,” Matson added. “They executed their free throws.”

Maddy Anderson finished with eight points.

What will it take for the Wolverines to continue their Cinderella run?

“We like to play Grove,” Brechtl said. “We’ve lost to them by three both games. We had a big lead late the second time. That’s a team we know we can beat. We will have to take better care of the ball, and defensively we will have to be on our ‘A’ game.”

“This has been the weirdest year ever. With one senior on the floor, there’s been a lot of learning. I think some of it came from this game, so that’s a good thing.”