The Whitefish Bay girls basketball team was looking for a spark, any kind of offensive spark in a grinding, physical defensive struggle at North Shore rival Grafton Friday night.
And senior guard Lindsey Agnew was the one who finally hit the circuit breaker.
She hit a jumper from the wing at the end of a minute-long possession at the start of the fourth quarter to close the gap to 18-17 and then three minutes later, she hit a three-pointer, also from the wing to put the Blue Dukes ahead for good, as they remained unbeaten with a 28-24 decision over the host Blackhawks.
"Lindsey was clearly the star of the night," said Blue Duke coach Greg Capper. "She held us in there offensively until the rest found their feet."
"And as we know, that took awhile."
Agnew, who hit the game-winning jumper in a WIAA regional final against Brown Deer last year during the Blue Dukes' surprising run to the WIAA State D2 Tournament, was just glad that she was the one who put the plug in and turned on the light.
"We knew that there would be shifts in this game," she said. "After that first shot (that closed the gap to 18-17), it was like we got a little splash of energy, we were able to go a little harder."
The win improved the Blue Dukes to 5-0 in the North Shore Conference and 9-0 overall. It also kept them apace with defending league and state champion Nicolet (5-0, 11-0), which was an easy winner over Cedarburg this night.
Bay will visit Nicolet in the closer of the North Shore's first half of the season on Jan. 20. Meanwhile, Grafton, which desperately needed the game to stay in the league hunt, fell to 3-2 and 6-3, respectively.
Veteran Blackhawk coach Bob Maronde saw the turning point happening a little earlier, as Grafton built an 18-11 lead midway through the third quarter and seemingly had the Blue Dukes on the ropes.
"We had opportunities to stretch the lead in that time span," he said, "but we weren't able to exploit their defense. We took a few bad shots and then when they (the Blue Dukes) started to push in the fourth quarter, we blinked and to their credit, they took advantage."
Yes, the Blue Dukes did, as after Bay closed the gap to 18-15 by the end of the third, Agnew decided to step up.
After her basket of the period, Bay forced a turnover, and then point guard Elisabeth Johnston drove hard to the basket for a lay-up and an eventual three-point play that put Bay up 20-18 at the 5:25 mark of the fourth.
It was the first lead since early in the second quarter for the Blue Dukes.
But the Blackhawks, who have won two state D2 titles in the last five years, didn't fold, as guard Haley Orlowski hit a driving lay-up and then forward Sam Gosewehr dropped in a post shot with 4:05 remaining to give Grafton its last lead at 22-20.
But on the next possession, Agnew, who scored seven of her game-high 11 points in the final session, gave the Blue Dukes the advantage for good with her trifecta at the 3:25 mark.
It was a good test of Bay's mettle, she said, as the Blue Dukes have not faced a team of this caliber before this season.
"We knew that Grafton would be a challenge, especially up at their place," she said. "They're always a competitive team and difficult to get by. I mean we played some teams that were OK, but none that were as physical as Grafton."
"We had to be ready for it."
And the Blue Dukes proved they were. After Agnew's three, they forced another turnover and cashed in when center and leading scorer Maya Jonas, who was greatly limited in her play in the first half by foul trouble, scored on a hard slash to the basket off a fine feed from Agnew.
It was 25-22 with 2:17 remaining.
The Blackhawks missed out on cutting into the lead with two missed free throws a short time later, but they got the ball back on a tie-up. They would then miss a three-pointer before Jonas eventually collected the rebound.
Just moments later, Agnew all but clinched the game with a fastbreak lay-up at the 1:32 mark that made it 27-22.
A free throw by Johnston with 39 seconds remaining gave Bay its largest lead of the night at 28-22 and finally allowed Capper to breath a little easier on a night when a suffocating Grafton defense made it difficult for the Blue Duke offense to grab even a sliver of air.
"I think in the second half, we finally began to relax a little bit and find the open cutter," he said. "That finally allowed Maya and Elisabeth and Lyndsey to make some plays."
Maronde knew his team lost out on a major chance to affect the league race.
"We have to finish when we have the opportunity," he said. "We didn't do that tonight and they did. That's to their credit."
Johnston added nine points and Jonas six for Bay. No one scored more than eight points for Grafton.
Agnew said the Blue Dukes were finally able to prove something tonight.
"I mean we've had a target on our back since the pre-season, when we were ranked second in the state in some polls," she said. "I hated that. It was a constant reminder that I brought up to everyone that just because people say we're good doesn't automatically mean that we are."
"We have to keep pushing, working hard."
And finding a spark when needed.
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