WIAA GIRLS BASKETBALL: Milton ends Lady Panthers’ season
By Jason Arndt
So close, but not enough for the Wilmot Union High School girls basketball team in a March 2 WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal contest against Milton at Fort Atkinson.
The Panthers, challenged by a taller Red Hawks’ team, came within one point three times in the second half and with less than 10 seconds left, the Panthers were down 59-57.
However, Milton held on, ending the Panthers’ playoff run for the second consecutive year with a 62-57 victory.
Last year, Milton handed Wilmot a heartbreaking home loss in the regional championship game on a buzzer beater.
Wilmot coach Keiya Square, whose team had a 29-21 deficit entering halftime, attributed the loss to a taller Red Hawks squad.
“Their length gave us issues, I think at the start of the game, they had 6-foot, 6-foot and 5-foot-10 out there,” said Square. “They had more offensive rebounds in the first half and that hurt us right away.”
Overall, Milton accumulated 16 offensive rebounds, which led to 15 second-chance points, compared to the Panthers’ eight offensive rebounds.
Of the 40 total Red Hawks rebounds, 13 came from 6-1 sophomore Chloe Buscher, who knocked in 10 points, with 6-1 senior Bailee Collins collecting another 11 boards and pitching in 19 points.
Collins, who scored 13 of her 19 in the first half, continued to apply pressure inside the paint.
“She is a tough player, defensively, we had some breakdowns against her,” Square said. “It was really hard for us to guard, she is a big physical kid,”
The Panthers loss comes despite 5-10 senior Delaney Sjong’s double double, which included a game-high 21 points, along with 11 rebounds.
Sjong, part of the second half surge, knocked in the Panthers’ last point with less than 10 seconds left on a free throw.
Meanwhile, 5-6 senior guard Devin Coleman, who scored 12 points along with three assists and two steals pulled the contest within one point twice in the second half, including a three-pointer to make it 37-36 Milton.
But, for every Panthers’ point, Milton answered, and then bolstered its lead, including a 6-0 run later in the second half to put the Panthers in a 48-39 deficit.
The Panthers, however, continued to push, making runs of 7-2, 7-3 and 3-1 in the last four minutes of the contest, capped off by a 5-10 junior Morgan Zenon bucket, which made it 58-56.
According to Milton coach Stacy Skemp, unlike last year, the Red Hawks maintained composure as the Panthers produced spurts of rallies.
“This time, we were the ones that were experienced and it showed,” said Skemp, whose team improved to 15-10 following the win. “We didn’t get rattled on their runs, and they are a good team.”
In the closing seconds, with Milton holding a double bonus, the Panthers were forced to foul to create scoring chances, but the Red Hawks converted 4 of 6 free throws to close the contest at 62-57.
Taking the high road
In spite of the loss, Square told his players following the game of the Panthers’ season achievements, including the school’s second regional title in four years.
“It’s big, we were telling the girls, besides our coaching staff and maybe a couple of girl, no one thought we would be in this game,” he said.
Among they girls was 5-2 senior McKenna Stanek, one of two players called up as freshman in the first regional title team, who said this was her most memorable season.
“It has probably been my favorite year playing basketball, I fell in love with the gamer again,” she said. “Our team this year was so unforgettable. We made so many memories together.”
For the unforgettable moments, she is “grateful for the team.”
Wilmot finished its season 16-8.
As the Panthers look to the future, Square stated the team’s “senior leadership will be missed.”