Every time it looked like the Germantown girls basketball team would pull away in a sectional semifinal at Brown Deer on March 2, Sussex Hamilton would come right back. Even though the Chargers kept the Warhawks on edge throughout, Germantown prevailed with strong free-throw shooting, 72-60.
"(Free throws are) not our strength typically, but I think focus comes into factor, and sometimes, I think that's more of our issue than anything," Germantown coach Matt Stuve said. "Once you're focused, good players should hit them."
Germantown, the No. 1 seed, made 24 of 29 attempts from the free-throw line (83 percent).
"They play hard and they don't give up," Hamilton coach Bill Scasny said. "Germantown hit more shots. It's real simple."
With 9 minutes, 50 seconds left in regulation, Hamilton's Jordan Fierst converted a basket to pull within 45-39, but Natalie McNeal answered with a field goal of her own a minute later. McNeal, a freshman guard for Germantown, contributed 16 points and two 3-pointers. Another freshman guard, Kate Richmond, added 8 points.
"They're not playing like freshmen anymore," Stuve said. "Really, they haven't for the whole year. They've kind of blended into the group. They've played in some big games. ... The moment never seems too big."
Senior Kenzie Schmitz scored a team-high 20 points for Germantown and went 13 for 16 from the free-throw line. Hamilton, the No. 4 seed, keyed in on Schmitz consistently throughout the games, which opened up shots for players like senior Olivia Verdin, who scored 13 points.
"Overall as a team, we help each other out," Schmitz said. "When one girl isn't playing the best, another girl will step up right away. If somebody is getting trapped, we have girls to come and help. We're definitely really good at picking each other up."
Hamilton senior Macy Williams had 25 points and nine rebounds. Williams kept Hamilton in the game with 6 minutes remaining with back-to-back jumpers to cut Germantown's advantage to 53-46.
"Macy just kept making plays," Stuve said. "You could tell a senior kid with the sense that she had to do it all or be done with her season. She took over and made some incredible shots. There's not much more we could do, defensively. We knew what she was doing, but she still managed to hit those shots. That's a credit to a good player."
In the final 5 minutes, Germantown made 11 of 12 free-throw attempts to put the game away.
"We didn't play bad, they just played better," Scasny said. "We had a couple chances there where we missed inside layups and they'd come down hit a three. So that's a 5-point swing going the other way. Chances were there. We didn't capitalize on some of them, and they did on theirs."
Germantown defeated Hamilton on Dec. 6, 73-69.
"We knew their players, so we were able to matchup and know what they were going to do," Schmitz said. "It definitely helps to have a background and experience against them, but we knew it was a new game, and playoffs is always different than any regular season game, so we still tried to treat it like any other game."
HHS finished the season as the outright Greater Metro Conference champion and also won its second consecutive regional title. The strong season came after Hamilton lost one of its better players in 2015-16, Megan Schmitt, for the 2016-17 campaign due to a knee injury before the season even began.
"If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that we would have been 18-7 and a conference championship with losing Megan, I would have taken that bet we wouldn't have been there," Scasny said. "You've got to give this team a lot of credit for not giving up and playing well. We probably exceeded what everybody thought. Losing Megan was a big loss, and other kids picked it up."
Lexi Konop added 12 points for Hamilton, and Fierst had 9. HHS made seven 3-pointers in the game.
Germantown went on to fall to DePere in the WIAA sectional final on March 4 (see separate story).
"We probably brought our C-plus game, which was good enough for this exam, but it's AP exam time Saturday," Stuve said. "They're freaking athletic, so it kind of negates our athleticism a little bit, so now it comes down to execution on both ends."