For just a few seconds, Veronica Kieres felt like she might have cost UW-Whitewater the chance to clinch the WIAC women’s basketball title at Kachel Gymnasium.
Then she did something about it.
The sophomore guard drove down the lane and hit a layup while being fouled. She made the free throw and the three-point play put the Warhawks up 73-71 with 19 seconds left. That proved to be enough in Whitewater’s 75-71 victory over visiting UW-Oshkosh on Wednesday night.
The pivotal three-point play came just five seconds after the Titans’ Leah Porath had grabbed a long rebound off a missed 3-pointer, spun and put in a layup to give Oshkosh a brief 71-70 lead.
Kieres dropped her head for an instant.
“I knew it was my responsibility to box that girl out down there and I didn’t,” said Kieres, who finished with nine points. “When the ball came to me I knew it was time to do something about it.”
She saw her lane of opportunity open up in front of her just a few seconds later. Kieres drove to the hoop and was fouled and her shot went in.
She added the free throw.
After an Oshkosh timeout in the frontcourt, the Titans threw an errant cross-court inbounds pass.
Porath saved the ball, but Warhawks freshman Aleah Grundahl grabbed it and was fouled.
“We were told to switch one through five so when she ran to the corner—because she was their 3-point shooter—I put my hands up and thankfully it was a bad pass,” Kieres said.
Grundahl iced the game with two free throws with four seconds left.
The fourth-ranked Warhawks then celebrated their WIAC regular-season title.
“Just the resilience of this team is awesome,” UW-Whitewater head coach Keri Carollo said. “It was a great win for us. There was something on the line tonight. It goes back to the character of this group. Even through mistakes they figure out a way to win.”
Grundahl scored the first four points of the game to help the Warhawks (22-2, 12-1) to a 9-0 start.
The Titans (14-10, 7-6) scored 15 of the next 21 points to earn their first lead of the game at 15-13 with 3 minutes, 14 seconds remaining in the first and finished off the quarter up 20-17.
Senior Becky Raeder scored eight of her 10-first half points to give Whitewater a 37-34 halftime lead.
Oshkosh grabbed its biggest lead of the game at 48-41 with 3:55 to play in the third, but Whitewater responded with 11 straight to earn a 52-48 advantage with 58 seconds until the fourth.
Grundahl scored six points on three straight offensive possessions to cap the 11-0 run.
Oshkosh’s Brooke Freitag hit a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to knot the game at 52-52 heading into the final quarter.
Whitewater led 70-66 with 1:08 to play, but a 3-pointer from Olivia Campbell cut it to one point with 43 seconds left.
Then the up-and-down finish took place.
Carollo elected not to take time out after Porath’s putback gave Oshkosh the lead. She knows Kieres is a playmaker.
“When she gets a good head of steam going and she has that look in her eye, I don’t want to stop her,” Carollo said. “I feel like when she had that flow and momentum—the defense is back on their heels—I just gotta let them play. I have to let them determine the outcome.”
The Titans called a timeout with seven seconds left, but the Warhawks forced a throw away off the inbounds.
Junior Johanna Taylor ended with 18 points for the Warhawks.
The WIAC title was Whitewater’s first since the 2017-2018 season.
“Since we are so young I think that makes it even better,” Kieres said. “I don’t think people looked at us like we could be a winning team. Winning is such a great feeling when you have such a great team like this. I’m excited to see what March brings.”
The Warhawks will end their regular season with a road game against UW-Stout Saturday at 3 p.m.
WHITEWATER 75, OSHKOSH 71
UW-Oshkosh (fg ftm-fta pts)—Porath, 6 2-2 14; Freitag, 3 5-5 13; Campbell, 4 3-4 12; Miller 2 1-1 6; Rueth 4 0-0 12; Staples, 3 3-4 10; Ludwig, 1 2-2 4. Totals: 23 16-18 71.
UW-Whitewater—Taylor 8 2-5 18; Grundahl, 6 5-6 17; Raeder 4 -5-5 15, Kieres, 4 1-1 9; Schumacher, 3 1-1 9; Sto. Domingo, 2 2-2 7. Totals: 27 16-20 75.
3-point goals—UW-O 9 (Freitag 2, Campbell, Staples, Miller, Rueth 4), UW-W 5 (Raeder 2, Schumacher 2, Sto. Domingo). Rebounds—UW-O 28 (Porath 7), UW-W 31 (Grundahl 7). Total fouls—UW-O 22, UW-W 15.