Wolverines storm back, but run out of steam late

Annie Benavides (from left), Kathleen Fitzgerald and Maddy Anderson cope with their heart-wrenching loss seconds after Thursday night’s game. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

FORT ATKINSON – Maddie Anderson’s face said it all.

Moments after the Waterford girls basketball season ended Thursday night in a WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal at Fort Atkinson High School, the defeated Wolverines slugged to the sideline, as chaos ensued in the packed gymnasium.

Anderson, the lone senior and catalyst of Waterford’s improbable three-game playoff win streak as an underdog, simply lost it.

She couldn’t hold back the overflow of emotion, and teammate Kathleen Fitzgerald held her staggering friend.

This one hurt.

That much.

Perhaps what will sting the most is that the sixth-seeded Wolverines, who didn’t even have 10 wins entering the showdown with 23-1 and state-ranked No. 1 seed Jefferson, were five minutes away from a fourth straight upset victory before the wheels fell off.

Senior guard Parker Featherston ignited a furious 18-4 rally to finish the game, and the senior-laden Eagles marched on with a 39-33 victory, effectively ending Waterford’s impressive playoff run.

The Wolverines, with Anderson as the only senior, overcame a 17-9 halftime deficit to lead 29-21 with 5:46 to play, but a series of unfortunate events spelled disaster.

Anderson, who will play college basketball in Ohio next season, was a warrior in her final high school game, leading the Wolverines with 11 points while sophomore Katie Rohner, who went off for 25, 27 and 26 in her previous games, was relegated to only 10.

“We played hard the whole game,” Anderson said. “This should’ve been a game that we could’ve won, and we fought hard until the end. A couple things didn’t go our way at the end, but we can’t control that. I’m really proud of my team and what we accomplished these past couple weeks.”

“I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

 

Things got snippy in the second half Thursday night. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

Featherston takes over

What happend at the end was the re-emergence of Featherston, who helped the Eagles build a 9-1 lead to begin the game.

The senior point guard knocked down a 3-pointer at the top of the key to cut the Waterford lead to 29-26. Jefferson added a layup, then Featherston led a fast break and found Jackie Luengas for a layup and a 30-29 advantage.

The bucket capped a sizzling 9-0 run that took all of one minute, 46 seconds, and the Wolverines didn’t know what hit them.

“We knew the energy was there, but we dug ourselves a hole,” said Featherston, who led Jefferson with 13 points. “We knew we had to go on a little run. We had to get out of it and play for each other and have good communication.”

“Waterford is a very good team, and they gave us a run for our money.”

But a good scorer never stops shooting, and despite being double-teamed most of the game and struggling to find her shot, Rohner stepped up late.

She worked her defender for a filthy step-back 17-foot jump shot to help Waterford regain a 31-30 lead with 1:55 to go, but Jefferson answered with two free throws after a questionable, 50-50 foul call on 6-foot-1 junior Kathleen Fitzgerald on what looked like a clean block.

Down 32-31, Anderson hit two more foul shots to push it back to 33-32 Waterford, but Featherston wasn’t done.

The Wolverines packed in defensively, forcing a kick-out, and Featherston hit another triple at the 1:17 mark to make it 35-33 Jefferson.

Down 37-33, Anderson got a great look in the corner on the next possession, but her 3-point attempt was long, and Waterford missed its next three shots, while the Eagles hit a layup and added two more free throws.

Waterford’s half-court offense had trouble executing late, and the surging Eagles were simply too good.

“We went in the locker room at halftime and told them our defense is what got us here, and we needed to run our stuff,” said Waterford head coach Dena Brechtl. “We talked about utilizing screens to open up some stuff, and we started to hit shots. It all took a lot of work and took a lot of energy. Our wheels fell off, in terms of making some switches, and we couldn’t stop Featherston.”

Waterford had a full timeout and 1:09 to make a last-minute push, but a Rohner offensive foul followed by a reach-in slap in the back-court from the sophomore guard only fueled the Eagles’ flight.

With Fitzgerald out, Brechtl said the offense drifted outside the paint, and it cost the Wolverines.

“We were running ‘Boston’ for a layup, but didn’t have that post presence,” Brechtl added. “We knew if we could run some time and get Kat a break, we’d be OK. But what Featherston did is what a senior does. And mine (Anderson) came to the stage, too. She was a leader and hit some big shots.”

 

Rohner’s patented baseline move was game-planned, so the sophomore’s sizzling streak of 20 or more points was stopped. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

Girls overcome shooting struggles

Waterford struggled to 20 percent from the field and 18 percent from beyond the arc.

Rohner, unstoppable last week, was held to 4-for-20 shooting.

What’s remarkable is that the Wolverines shot 7 percent in the first half, yet had multiple opportunities to win it at the end.

“We held a really good basketball team that averages 54 points a game to 39,” Brechtl said. “But they did a good job of frustrating Katie, and she had a few too many shots that were off-balance. Their three guards were very good defenders, and that Morrison (Callie) did a good job and took away the baseline shot she likes.”

The Wolverines out-rebounded the Eagles, 36-28, led by Fitzgerald’s 13.

“Finally, the shots started falling, and it was like, ‘We can do this,'” Fitzgerald said. “We had some bad fouls at bad times. It was a huge momentum killer, and it was really hard to come back at the end from a combination of things.”

“We all knew we were capable of this, we knew it from summer open gyms. It was a matter of coming together as a team. In those 22 games, it wasn’t always fun, but we learned a lot.”

For Brechtl, the magical run was only the beginning. With everyone back next season except Anderson, the sky’s the limit.

“If you never get a taste, you never know what it’s like,” she said. “We know what it’s like, and there’s no turning back.”

“Maddy became quite the leader this postseason. We moved her to the shooting guard this season. I give tribute to senior manager Jordan Brekke, who’s been with our program for four years and dedicated herself. I told them in the locker room, ‘If you haven’t learned something about the passion of the game of basketball from Maddy,’ it’s very rare she doesn’t have an orange ball in her hand. Maddy shows it doesn’t matter how big you are, it’s your heart that matters. Maddy knew after watching Rae Lin (D’Alie), all it takes is some passion and hard work. She’s been a rock this year.”

Dena Brechtl calls out a play Thursday night. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

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