Long after the WIAA Division 2 regional final was over Saturday night at Whitefish Bay, injured Blue Dukes all-state candidate Maya Jonas finally grabbed her crutches and slowly worked her way out of the fieldhouse with her dad, Jeff, by her side.
She still faces a long rehabilitation just a few days removed from a second surgery on the same knee in less than two years. She suffered the injury about 10 days ago in a nonconference loss to Kettle Moraine.
Jonas was having an amazing season and the injury shocked and dismayed everyone around her, including obviously, her team.
But she will have one brilliant, wide-eyed happy memory from the final week, and it came just moments before her departure, because before Jonas was allowed to leave, her teammmates mobbed her, placed the regional championship plaque carefully in her lap and then took smiling, tear-filled photos with her from her place in the bleachers.
The short-handed Blue Dukes had rallied from a ghastly first quarter where they did not score against Wauwatosa West. They did not take the lead until senior Catie McBride hit one of two free throws at the end of the third quarter to make it 18-17.
After they built a seven-point lead with 3:12 to go, they held off a fierce Trojans rally when junior forward Ashley Reed calmly sank two free throws with 6 seconds remaining to clinch an improbable 31-27 victory.
"For them to win a close game like that was really cool," said Jonas, before her teammates carefully rushed her.
It put a happy coda on what had been a long week for the Blue Dukes, who had advanced to the regional final with a 61-32 win over Milwaukee Morse-Marshall on Friday.
"Very difficult," said junior forward Emma Jankowski, who hit three free throws in the final 36 seconds. "Coming back after losing Maya was just so very hard, but I think we have the toughest team ever."
Her coach Dave Markson did not argue with her. This team could have gone belly up after losing Jonas, but Markson never doubted the Dukes' character.
"They're not like that," he said. "They wouldn't do that (quit mentally). ...I'm just so happy for the girls. Winning a championship at anything is hard enough. I'm just ecstatic for these kids."
The victory advanced the Blue Dukes (18-6 overall) to a WIAA D2 sectional semifinal at 8:15 p.m. Thursday at Greenfield against Woodland Conference champion Pius XI (22-2). The sectional championship for the right to go to state tournament is next Saturday at Brookfield Central.
No one can say the Blue Dukes didn't earn the right to play another week.
With its offense handicapped by the loss of their leading scorer and playmaker, to say that Bay struggled on offense in the first half was a vast understatement. Bay trailed 12-7 at the break after the scoreless first period left it behind, 2-0.
"Tosa West is an excellent defensive team," said Markson. "They play very hard. It took us more than a quarter to get a feel (for what they were doing defensively).
But the Blue Dukes stayed in the game.
"We just kept plugging away though," said Reed. "The defense really saved us."
Yes, it did.
"I kept telling them that the halfcourt defense will keep us in the game," said Markson, "and it was spot on for almost the entire game, and in the second half we finally accelerated our offense a little."
After the Trojans' Abbey Jones hit a layup to make it 17-12 West with 1:15 left in the third, the Blue Dukes finally found their way. Jankowski hit a 3-pointer from the wing to make it 17-15 and, after a West turnover, McBride drained two free throws to tie it for the first time at 17-all with 31 seconds left in the session.
Bay forced two misses, and that's when McBride hit her free throw just before period's end to give the Blue Dukes the lead for good.
The defense stayed stout at the beginning of the fourth quarter, forcing a miss and two turnovers early. In that time, Jankowski hit a shot from the wing to extend the lead to to 20-17, and shortly thereafter, McBride drove hard to the basket for a layup to make it 22-17 with 5:12 left.
When Ellen Comiskey nailed a jumper at the 3:38 mark, it looked like the game was over at 24-17. But not quite.
It was still 26-19 with 3:12 left after Reed's strong post move resulted in two more points.
However, the Blue Dukes missed a front end of a bonus and two more free throws on a separate effort, and West took advantage of the generosity.
The Trojans' Ashley Lindstrom hit a 3-pointer with 1:10 left, and then Jones closed the gap to just 26-25 with an old-fashioned three-point play at the 39-second mark.
"West Is a very well-coached team (by former Greendale star Ashley Imperiale), I wasn't surprised (that they came back)," said Markson.
But Bay didn't fold either. Jankowski hit two free throws with 36 seconds left and after a West basket by Amani Pettiford made it 28-27 with just 21 seconds left, Jankowski hit one of two charity tosses to to bump it back up to 29-27 with 18 ticks remaining.
West then came down with a chance to tie or take the lead, but a pass went the wrong way along the deep right sideline with 9 seconds left, and Bay got the ball back. That's when Reed was fouled and hit those final two clutch free throws.
Jankowski led Bay with 13 points as Reed had 6, while Lindstrom led West with 11 and Jones contributed seven.
"This feels good," said Reed. "No one expected us to do anything (after Jonas was hurt)."
But the Blue Dukes were bound and determined to do so.
"We have one of the closest teams ever," said Jankowski. "...This one is definitely for Maya. She's not only a great player, but one of the greatest teammates ever."
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