Grafton knocks off Monroe girls
Eichler picked up two fouls in the first quarter, but the UW-Green Bay recruit still went on to score 24 points as the Black Hawks gained the upper hand late in the first half and notched 53-45 victory over the second-ranked Cheesemakers (23-34) at the Alliant Energy Center.
That advanced sixth-ranked Grafton (23-2) to the state title game for the second time in three years. The Black Hawks will try to duplicate their 2007 championship when they play Durand (23-2) at 1:45 p.m. today.
Durand advanced with a 55-44 win over Green Bay Notre Dame.
After Monroe took a 16-10 lead in the first minute of the second quarter and was up 20-13 on Morgan Kennison’s three-point goal with 5:48 left in the half, Grafton called on its reserves to pick up the offense. The Black Hawks responded immediately with a 10-0 run that turned the game around for good, even though Eichler sat out with three fouls for much of the second quarter.
Freshman guard Hannah Eichler and senior guard Shauna Binsfeld hit three-point goals that pulled Grafton within 20-19. Sarah Eicher then hit a jumper that put the Black Hawks ahead for good at 21-20 with 4:38 left in the half, and Myranda Tyler followed with a lay-up that completed the 10-point run for a 23-20 lead with 3:48 to go.
Gwen Sutter finally broke the streak with two free throws that pulled Monroe within 23-22 at the 2:02 mark. However, Abby Benzschawel’s basket and Tyler’s free throw with 14 seconds left sent Grafton to the locker room with a 26-24 lead, and the Black Hawks had Monroe playing catch-up the rest of the way.
Sarah Eichler scored all 10 of Grafton’s points in the third quarter as the Blackhawks extended their lead to 36-31.
Coach Kevin Keen said the Blackhawks’ defensive pressure forced his Cheesemakers to make some uncharacteristic turnovers. Monroe had 15 for the day.
“We fought and battled to the end and came up a little short,” Keen said.
That was because Grafton repeatedly answered Monroe’s challenges.
Most notably, Sarah Eichler hit two straight jumpers to make it 43-38 with 5:44 remaining after Monroe had pulled within 39-38 on Ashley Hermanson’s two free throws with 6:06 left.
“I was really impressed with Sarah Eichler,” Keen said. “I thought she did an outstanding job. Complete ballplayer. She hit the ‘three’ against us, but she could take you in and post you up.’’
Even so, the Cheesemakers still trailed only 45-43 after Kyleigh Sellnow’s three-point goal with 2:52 to go. But then, Grafton went to work on the free-throw line, making all 10 of its attempts in the last three minutes to put the game out of reach.
Grafton coach Bob Maronde said his team’s strong play off the bench and Sarah Eichler’s decision-making skills were key factors in helping the Blackhawks reach that point.
“We’ve had other kids come in the game and give us good minutes,” Maronde said. “On any given night, it’s going to be a different kid stepping up.
“I think the marvelous thing about Sarah is that she picks her spots very well. She makes it happen, she’s that talented, and she’s basketball intelligent.”
Senior guard Emily Rufenacht, who was playing in her third state title game and can claim two championships, led the Monroe with 10 points in defeat.
“Hopefully, you always learn something from a loss, but it’s tough to have a loss at this point,” Keen said. “We’ve got a great nucleus coming back, Emily being our only senior starter. We’ve got seven of our top eight. It sounds like last year.
“But kudos to Emily Rufenacht,” he said. “She’s a great kid, and she’s done a lot leading this club.