Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Down two starters due to injury, down 10 points late to archirval Homestead on the road and with the team shooting so poorly it couldn't hit water if it fell out of a boat, Germantown girls basketball coach Matt Stuve did a few things Dec. 9 that he normally doesn't like to do.
Play a zone defense and rely on freshmen.
But he did both, and the result was a thrilling 54-53 victory that kept the Warhawks unbeaten at 6-0 and in the North Shore Conference lead at 3-0.
"Obviously I've known Corey (Homestead coach Wolf) for a long time, and she knows I haven't ran a 1-3-1 defense my entire life," Stuve said. "But (assistant) coach (Shane) Cox has experience working with it having worked with Craig (Amundson) at Menomonee Falls all those years. With the situation being what it was, it was as good a time as any to give it shot."
Absolutely, because after Homestead junior forward Amanda Hooks hit one of two free throws with 5:38 left, the Highlanders had completed a 24-7 run that took them from being down, 34-27, to being up, 51-41.
But as noted, Stuve was ready to try anything. After getting a stop, freshmen guard Natalie McNeal, one of three frosh who have made an impact for the Warhawks this winter, hit a layup to cut the deficit to eight. Then junior guard Megan Ische drained a 3-pointer with 3:42 left to make it 51-46. All-state guard Kenzie Schmitz, who led all scorers with a hard-won 22 points, hit two free throws to make it 51-48 with 3:11 to go.
Homestead junior star post Chloe Marotta hit her only field goal of the night to give the Highlanders some breathing room at 53-48 with 2:11 to go, but those would be the last points of the night for the home team in the noisy and crowded John Chekouras gym.
The 1-3-1 defense was wreaking havoc on the Highlanders (2-1) as Stuve put 5-10 Schmitz at the top of it with her long arms and leaping ability.
Wolf said the high-octane, high-speed Warhawks' sudden change in tactics took the Highlanders off guard as they turned the ball over and missed some open shots.
"They went from a fast game to a slow game, and we had a hard time adjusting to it," Wolf said. "I really give Matt credit for going to that, and Kenzie is so big and athletic. When they put her out there (at the top of the zone), she effectively took away half of the court."
Schmitz followed Marotta's hoop with a basket of her own. She was fouled, but she missed the free throw. The Warhawks also had large problems at the foul line in the second half, hitting only 9-of-18 attempts. But the Warhawks forced another turnover, and McNeal drove to the basket and hit the layup to close the gap, 53-52, with 1:19 to go. Another Homestead miss led to a bust-out for Germantown, and McNeal again went straight to the basket, hit the layup and was fouled with 59 seconds left.
Germantown was up for the first time in over 10 minutes at 54-53. McNeal, who would finish with 15 points, said she knew she had to keep an aggressive mindset if the Warhawks were going to win.
"I knew that if we were going to win, we were going to have to work as a team," she said. "You just have to believe in yourself and hope for the best. There was a lot of pressure down the stretch, and I knew I had to be quick but stay calm. I was a little scared (going to the basket), but I really wanted it for the team."
"She's just a fearless kid," Stuve said.
But Homestead still had a shot.
The Highlanders ran the clock down to 18 seconds, called a timeout and then tried to solve the zone one last time. A shot from the wing looked good but was off the mark. Schmitz grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 0.6 of a second left. She missed both free throws, but it didn't matter as the buzzer went off on the rebound.
Key seniors missing
It was gratifying win for Stuve and the Warhawks, who lost in the Chekouras last year to the Highlanders and were down senior guard Taylor Weitermann, who turned her ankle in practice on Dec. 7, and senior forward Olivia Verdin, who suffered an ankle injury of her own less than two minutes into the game.
"That is a lot of senior experience that wasn't on the floor," he said. "I give a lot of credit to the kids. They were down 10, but they didn't get rattled. I told the kids in a situation like this, you win with defense and rebounding because we there will be shooting nights like this. We just had to buckle down on defense and get stops."
Germantown hit only two field goals in the first 13 minutes of the second half.
But all that good defense wasn't enough for the Highlanders, and neither was the 17-of-25 shooting from the foul line.
Wolf pointed to a moment late in the first half, when Homestead was up 25-21, only to have Germantown go off on a 9-0 run to close the session, including a buzzer-beating 3 from Ische that made it 30-25.
"That was really key, too, and that is what Germantown does," she said. "You stay with them and stay with them, and then they get these one- and two-minute bursts, and that's often the game ... there's still a long ways to go here. The point is, we have to get better because Germantown will get better, Grafton will get better, Cedarburg will get better. You have to get better because you're never good enough."
Sophomore guard Grace Crowley had 13 points to lead Homestead, while senior post Holly Dooge added 9.
Meanwhile, the Warhawks will look to get healthy and chalk this one up to experience.
"There's nothing like a game in a little gym that's packed like this; it was a great setting," Stuve said. "We want to go undefeated in conference, and we knew they would be a big obstacle. We knew nothing would be given to us."
"We want to get that 'four-peat' (fourth conference title in a row)," McNeal added, "but if we want it, we've got to take it."