Known more for their "press and run, splash and dash" style of play, the fifth-ranked Germantown girls basketball team isn't often forced into a physical, down-on-the-floor battle for survival.
But the Warhawks were on Thursday, Dec. 29, as they survived a tough challenge from 2015 WIAA state champion DSHA, 51-45, in the fifth-place game of the talent-rich Rathke Memorial Tournament in Franklin.
Coach Matt Stuve was pleased with how his team responded under difficult circumstances in their third game in as many days and with their lowest point total of the season.
"We challenged them today," Stuve said. "We gave up 69 points yesterday (Dec. 28) to Racine Case (in an 89-69 consolation semifinal win), and we just didn't play great defense in that game. We were going to start this game (DSHA) with a half-court defense, and we were determined to play quality half-court defense the entire game, and we did. The defense kept us in the game when the offense wasn't quite there."
The Warhawks, who had opened the tournament on Dec. 27 with a 70-61 loss to second-ranked Oshkosh Lourdes (which went onto fall to Middleton in the event final), finished the December portion of their schedule at 9-1.
They will have a serious set of challenges starting next week, when they visit Whitefish Bay (7-3) in a North Shore tilt on Wednesday, Jan. 4, that is a makeup of a snow-out in December. They will host powerful North Shore opponent Cedarburg on Friday, Jan. 6, and then turn around and play top-ranked Arrowhead on Saturday, Jan. 7, in the Warhawks' own basketball showcase at the Al McGuire Center at Marquette University.
Because of a schedule like that, Warhawks' all-state candidate forward Kenzie Schmitz is grateful for something like the Rathke to test the team's stamina and depth. Schmitz made the Rathke all-tournament team.
"We definitely like coming here," she said. "You always see good competition on both sides of the bracket. You always get three good games, which is what you hope for."
Plenty of turnovers
The win over DSHA (3-6) wasn't always a well-played game, but it was a good, intense, close contest. The teams traded leads several times in a physical first half marked by many turnovers. The Warhawks grabbed a 23-22 lead at the break, courtesy of two baskets in the final minute by senior forward Anna Averkamp. She hit a putback with 41 seconds left and then calmly hit a layup, as the clock ran out off a nice steal and pass from senior guard Kailynn Mongan.
The offense, specifically Schmitz, finally got untracked early in the second half, as Schmitz scored 9 straight points for the Warhawks, including a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound at the 12:36 mark that made it 35-26, the largest lead of the game for Germantown.
Though these Dashers are not quite at the talent level of previous editions of the team, they battled back. Germantown scored only 3 points in an eight-minute stretch, as DSHA closed to within 38-36. Senior forward Olivia Verdin, who played spare minutes in the tourney because she is still recovering from an ankle injury suffered two weeks ago, got a big basket for Germantown to make it 40-36 with 4:47 to go, but DSHA's Rachel Heinrich drained a 3-pointer to make it 40-39 at the four-minute mark.
It got very tense after that. Schmitz drained two free throws at 3:39 to make it 42-39, but then the Dashers were able to cut it to one on a lay-up at the 3:10 mark.
Freshman guard Natalie McNeal continued her run of clutch play with a baseline jumper to make it 44-41 with three minutes left. Then in a key sequence of events, the Warhawks put the game away. DSHA missed a 3-pointer. Gewrmantown was fouled, but both free throws were missed. However, the Dashers knocked the ball out of bounds. Schmitz then hit Verdin with the pass on a well-set-up inbounds play for an easy lay-up and a 46-41 advantage with 2:05 to go.
The Dashers got two free throws to cut the margin to 46-43, but then McNeal hit another tough shot to make it 48-43 with 1:23 to go. The Dashers would miss several changes to cut the margin, and junior guard Ellie Decker then came up with a clutch steal. She made one of two free throws to make it 49-43 with 36 seconds left. The Dashers got one final basket with 20 seconds to go, but then senior guard Taylor Weitermann drained two free throws with 15 seconds to go to clinch things for the Warhawks.
Big plays made
Stuve was pleased with how many people made big plays when the team needed them.
"They were able to get it to one (in the second half), but then we were able to make some plays," he said. "Ellie (Decker) made a great hustle play (on the steal), and then we had Taylor (Weitermann) in at the end because she's one of our best foul shooters. It's great when kids respond in situations you think they will. They did what they were supposed to do, and that always make a coach look good."
Schmitz led the way with 19 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, while McNeal had 9 points and three blocked shots and Averkamp put in 6 points.
Schmitz likes the way the team is looking at this point.
"I think we're moving in the right direction," she said. "We're showing a lot of depth and potential now and as we continue to play, it will get better and better."
"This is a good tournament for us to be in," Stuve added. "It shows you what you're good at and what you need to work on. We've got some nice depth right now. We can mix and match in certain situations and still get the job done."