The third time was not the charm for the Martin Luther girls basketball team on Saturday evening against Dominican. The Spartans, who had lost to Dominican twice during the regular season, were hoping for a different result in the playoffs. Instead, history repeated itself, and the Knights came away with a 50-34 victory.
"We talked about last year, we were on the other side," said Dominican coach Kevin Schramka. "We had lost to Shoreland with two very close games, down to the wire. We went on the road, and we beat them by double digits, so we talked about that; we just said, 'Hey, Martin Luther is us last year.' The old cliché, we're 0-0 right now, so you can forget about those two wins. We've just got to play our game and play aggressive."
The Knights came out fast and opened an 11-2 lead in the first quarter, but the Spartans responded as the quarter neared its end, culminating in a three-point play when Jaycee Navarro-Weber sunk a free-throw after being fouled on basket. The points cut Dominican's lead to 13-9 going into the second quarter.
Allazia Blockton opened the scoring in the second quarter for Dominican with a two-point basket, but the Spartans answered back when Liz Hafemann intercepted a Dominican pass and was fouled. She drained both free throws to keep the game within 3 points.
The Spartans continued to make their free throws — 9 of 10 in the first half compared to just 4 of 11 for the Knights, and the game was tied at 24 at halftime.
In the third quarter, things started to go Dominican's way. Blockton scored 6 points in the third to help her team to a 35-27 lead entering the fourth quarter. Blockton led all scorers with 23 points.
"I just knew they were kind of clogging (the lane), so I was trying to drive and create for my team," she said.
Regarding her free-throw shooting, she added. "I just calm down. I know I've got 10 seconds. I take a couple of deep breaths, and I know that every free throw counts. That's what I try to give to my team. I feel like this is going to boost our intensity for the next game. I'm really confident in our team. We got way better. We grew since the beginning of the year. It's amazing how we grew."
Martin Luther coach Jon Schneider pointed to his team's energy in the second quarter as a catalyst for keeping the Spartans in play.
"Our press forced them into a couple turnovers we were able to capitalize on, but as soon as they were able to get the ball into Blockton's hands, our press became a non-factor, and that's kind of our bread and butter is energy, takeaways and finishing on the fast breaks," he said. "We struggled a little bit to score. Got a lot of good looks. They just didn't fall, and Blockton's a heck of a player. We were able to shut her down once in a while, but a girl that can pass as well as she can and pull up for that jump shot, not to mention her outstanding rebounding ability, hurt us in the end. She's a phenomenal player and she leads by showing it on the floor, that's for sure."
Dominican (15-9) was able to rise its own intensity level after Martin Luther (12-12) went into the break tied.
"Our second half, our girls answered their intensity," said Schramka. "We had a couple stretches where we scored 4 and then 6, and once we got that lead, we took care of business. Allazia was phenomenal down the stretch. We hit some nice shots in the lane, and I think our full court man got them a little bit out of sync. They had a hard time scoring in the second half, so our defensive pressure picked up. There wasn't any panicking. We talked about that at half. We want to stay aggressive, but be patient, and let's swing the ball around a few times, hit the open man. We talked a little bit about being calm at halftime."
The Knights will move on to play The Prairie School at 7 p.m. Wednesday in a game at Racine Horlick for the right to go to the sectional final. The Spartans will look forward to next season.
"We're a young team; we'll be back next year," said Schneider. "All the credit to Dominican, they beat us tonight. Liz Hafemann has been a great leader, a three year all-conference player in the Metro, so it'll definitely hurt losing her, but we return a young team. We've got a lot of good juniors this year, a lot of good sophomores, and not to mention we had three freshman that got the second, third and fourth-most minutes on the team this year. We should be good to go returning four or five starters with the rest of the bunch coming back as well, so we look to get better and better. Next year should definitely be different, and we'll keep rolling."
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