WIAA BASKETBALL: (2) Catholic Central 74, (15) Salam 23

Emma Klein was on fire Tuesday night, torching the nets for 31 points – all of which came in the first 18 minutes. (John Fisher/SLN)


By Andrew Horschak

Sports Correspondent

Rewarded with a No. 2 seed in its half of the bracket after putting together a solid regular season, the Catholic Central girls basketball team is hoping to take advantage of some home cooking this week.

Eyeing their first sectional appearance since 2012, the Hilltoppers got the postseason off to a dominating start with a 74-23 victory over 15th-seeded Salam School in a WIAA Division 5 regional quarterfinal on Tuesday night.

With the triumph, Catholic Central (15-8) will host seventh-seeded Sheboygan Lutheran (8-14) in a regional semifinal 7 p.m. Friday.

If the Hilltoppers win, they will host either third-seeded Hustisford (13-10) or sixth-seeded Green Bay NEW Lutheran (9-14) in the regional final 7 p.m. Saturday.

“As I’ve told the girls, if we continue to do what we’ve been doing all year, we’re going to have success,” Catholic Central coach Joe Spierenburg said. “We have a great opportunity being the 2 seed to have three games at home. It’s a huge advantage, especially when you’re playing at our level in Division 5 where travel isn’t 10 to 20 minutes. It’s an hour and a half.”

In Tuesday’s commanding victory, Emma Klein did a commendable impression of Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo in the NBA All-Star Game. The do-it-all senior scored all 31 of her points in the first half, including 21 in the opening 8 minutes, 5 seconds as the Hilltoppers jumped out to a 25-8 lead.

“I had great passes from my teammates,” Klein said. “They got me the ball on a silver platter. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Klein connected on three 3-pointers and had two old-fashioned 3-point plays in the first half as Catholic Central led 51-13 at the break over Salam, a private Islamic school located on Milwaukee’s south side.

“Emma has worked tremendously hard to become a better offensive player and it shows,” Spierenburg said. “She can score off the dribble. Her jump shot is falling now. Automatic from the free-throw line. She’s a very complete player. I’m glad she’s on my team.”

Elizabeth Klein, Emma’s twin sister, flirted with a triple-double, finishing with eight points, eight rebounds and eight assists. She collected seven of her eight assists in the first half.

Julia Klein also scored eight points, and Erin Schwenn and Maddy von Rabenau chipped in seven apiece. Schwenn also had five assists.

Ten players scored in the game for the Hilltoppers.

The Hilltoppers surely won’t shy away from anyone they may face in the postseason after finishing 8-8 in the ultra-competitive Metro Classic Conference.

“If you look at the top four teams in our conference, you might have one or two state qualifiers,” Spierenburg said. “Even our bottom teams are very good basketball teams. You’re tested every night.

“We tell the girls that you can’t take a night off in our conference. That’s going to pay off in the postseason. We’ve been in close games. We’ve seen a lot of different defenses. We’ve seen good post play. We’ve seen outstanding guard play. We’re not going to be surprised by anything.”

After winning for the ninth time in its last 13 games, Catholic Central secured its 15th victory – the most for the program since it finished 19-5 and advanced to the sectional in the 2007-08 season.

The Hilltoppers last reached the sectional in 2012.

How good is this Catholic Central team?

“I think we can make it all the way to state if we stick to our defensive principles,” Emma Klein said. “We hold every team in our conference below their average, and if we keep working the ball on offense we’ll be in great shape.

“It’s nice being able to have a couple of home games if we keep winning. That really helps keep the momentum going.”