It wouldn't be unfair to bill a Homestead-Germantown girls basketball contest as a battle of top individuals, with Miami of Ohio recruit Kenzie Schmitz leading the Warhawks and Homestead fronted by Marquette University verbal commit Chloe Marotta.
On Jan. 31, the description was particularly apt. It was Marotta who produced the eye-popping numbers (40 points, 22 rebounds), but it was Schmitz and Germantown who won the war, 69-62.
Schmitz scored 29 points of her own, and Germantown (16-2) rode a late spurt to hold off an upset at the hands of the Highlanders (9-6) in an up-tempo North Shore Conference battle at GHS. Homestead had a lead with less than 8 minutes to play and was within one possession into the final minute, but Germantown remained undefeated in conference play.
"She's big and physical and aggressive," Germatown coach Matt Stuve said of Marotta. "When you let her get to her spots, it's a little tough. Especially early, we kind of let her get to the spot we wanted to and get the ball, which is the opposite of what we talked about yesterday. But Kenzie was able to match most of that, and Natalie (McNeal) had a big second half (12 of her 16 points)."
McNeal hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds to account for the final margin of victory, which belied how the contest came down to the wire. Marotta hit a driving layup with 18.9 seconds to go that gave her a clean 40, well ahead of her previous career-best showing of 32.
"She's just a special player," Homestead coach Corey Wolf said. "Sometimes when special players go up against other special players, they become even more special, and I think that's what you saw tonight. And a good team. She does a little bit of everything. It's hard to take her out of the game, because she does so much."
Marotta was on her game early, scoring the first six points of the battle. She already had 27 points by halftime, though her team went into the break down, 34-31, after Germantown closed the half on a 7-2 run.
"I really never think of points; my favorite thing to do is rebounding, so I always hope my rebounding stats are up as well," Marotta said.
(P.S., her rebounding stats were, in fact, up.)
"My teammates got me open to create those baskets, so I give a lot of credit to my teammates, and I happened to be finishing a lot tonight," Marotta added. "I was lucky my free throws were going in, as well (15 of 19)."
Marotta missed her first three shots of the second half, with Schmitz flying in for a block on a breakaway for one attempt, but she battled back with two quick baskets to keep her team close. Schmitz scored 6 straight points with Marotta getting a rest on the sideline to give her team its biggest lead at 43-36, but Homestead stormed back on a 14-2 run that gave the Highlanders a 50-45 lead with 8:43 to play. Emily Polk and Sam Crivello hit 3-pointers in the run.
"This team is close," Wolf said. "There are so many inexperienced players on this team that when things don't go our way, we don't stop runs quickly. We lose our confidence. They need to have the confidence that when they make a mistake, the next play goes on."
Homestead's roster features a freshman, three sophomores, four juniors and three seniors.
The final Homestead lead was 52-51 with 5:53 left, the point when Megan Ische hit a go-ahead jumper. Schmitz scored 7 of her points in the home stretch and the freshman McNeal, whose 3-pointer had tied the game at 50-50, had 8 more points in the final moments.
"I thought she was a little passive in the first half; I saw her passing up open shots and kind of hesitating and then shooting it, which is really uncharacteristic for her," Stuve said of McNeal. "In the second half, we just said, 'show what you can do and be aggressive.'"
On any other night, Schmitz's 29 points, 20 rebounds, seven assists and six steals would be the first talking point.
"It definitely adds something to the game," Schmitz said, referring to the tete-a-tete against Marotta. "We still try to play our same game. It's a team game, and we just have to play our game, too. We pushed at the end. They definitely wanted it, but we definitely wanted it, too. I think we were just more aggressive at the end, and that got us the lead when we were down."
Said Marotta, "She's a great player and I love having her as competition. It's good to go against someone as good as her. I thought we did a good job defending her and thought we did a good job getting the ball away from her on offense, but she played pretty well."
Germantown finished 15 for 28 overall from the free-throw line to hurt its cause, but it did hit its final four attempts. Stuve felt his team eventually found its footing on defense, even with Marotta's huge output.
"You've got to surround Chloe and live with them hitting jump shots," Stuve said. "I thought down the stretch, we did a much better job of that, putting more bodies near her and forcing them to play from the perimeter."
Germantown kept a one-game lead over Cedarburg in the loss column perched atop the North Shore as it seeks a fourth consecutive conference title. Those two teams are scheduled to meet Feb. 10 in a rematch after Germantown won the first meeting, 59-45.
"Nobody's ever won four in a row here for the girls and nobody has ever gone 14-0, so that's the goal, and we can push for the playoffs after that," Stuve said. "You've got to match that physicality. I didn't expect us not to match it early, but down the stretch, we did a nice job."