WIAA REGIONAL FINAL: Waterford 49, Union Grove 34

Check out Thursday’s sectional coverage on www.myracinecounty.com

Kathleen Fitzgerald (left) and Katie Rohner enjoy a celebratory chest bump after beating Union Grove Saturday. Check out more photos and coverage in Friday’s Waterford Post and Westine Report. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

 

By Tim Wester

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

It’s hard to top the Waterford/Union Grove rivalry.

The physicality.

The raw emotion.

The full-court intensity.

Then throw the two teams into a single-elimination regional final, and it becomes a 36-minute all-out grudge match.

The two teams laid it all on the line Saturday night, with Waterford eventually striking the decisive blow with a bone-crushing 18-3 second half run to finish off the Broncos, 49-34, in a WIAA Division 2 Regional Final Saturday, Feb. 23.

Waterford battled Milton in a Division 2 sectional semifinal Thursday night. Please visit www.myracinecounty.com for a story and photos.

Waterford players and coaches pose with their regional title plaque after Saturday’s game at Waterford Union High School. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

Junior Katie Rohner paced the Wolverines with a game-high 21 points, while senior Kathleen Fitzgerald added 10 to help Waterford earn its second straight regional finals championship.

The top-seeded Wolverines will take on third-seeded Milton in a sectional semifinal contest at Elkhorn Thursday.

Waterford, which fell 69-53 to the Red Hawks last December, is making its second consecutive sectional appearance at the expense of the Broncos. Last season Waterford upset second-seeded Union Grove 51-46 in the regional finals.

“I’m excited,” Waterford coach Dena Brechtl said. “This is exciting and when you can make it to sectionals, anything like that is worth every second.”

Union Grove, meanwhile, collectively fought back tears while watching the Wolverines hoist another regional final championship plaque in front of them.

“Now we have something going forward,” Union Grove coach Rob Domagalski said. “But right now, it’s all about celebrating this year and our accomplishments.”

Domagalski’s squad was poised to add a regional championship to the list of accomplishments after outplaying Waterford for most of the first half.

Senior Daphne Sieg’s three-pointer with 41 seconds left in the first half helped Union Grove hold a 21-18 halftime lead.

“I think we were playing how they wanted, turning the ball over and giving them easy shots and making us force shots,” Rohner said “And we went into halftime saying we have to play our game and can’t let them control things.”

Rohner and the Wolverines got their redemption in the second half with an 8-4 run to grab a 26-25 lead with 12:50 left.

But the Broncos matched Waterford blow-for-blow for the next five minutes. Junior Megan Barber’s free throw gave her team a 31-30 lead with seven minutes to play.

Barber paced the Broncos with 11 points, while sophomore Angela Slattery had 10.

The only question that remained was whether the Broncos would defy their regular season struggles and figure out how to close out a game victoriously against a winning team.

But the Broncos couldn’t change their tendencies and were victimized by an 18-3 Wolverine run to close out the game.

“We just got cold,” Domagalski said. “And that’s been the story of the whole season, and on top of that we’re playing the best team in our conference who wasn’t going to miss and miss the whole game. We just couldn’t kill the storm.”

The eye of the storm struck with a game-changing 13-1 Waterford run that turned a 1-point deficit into a 44-32 Waterford lead with under two minutes to play.

Rohner, Emma Karpinski, and Anna Benavides spear-headed the surge, combining to score all 13 points.

“We came into this game thinking our record is 0-0,” Fitzgerald said. “We are here to play basketball and we are here to win.”

The Wolverines will certainly need the same attitude to advance deeper in the WIAA playoffs.

It was a grueling, physical battle. Here, players hit the floor for a loose ball. (Rick Benavides/SLN)