Sussex Hamilton buried Brookfield East in the first half and then fought off the Spartans in the final minutes from the free-throw line for a 46-35 win to clinch at least a tie for the Greater Metro Conference championship with three games still to play.
The Chargers are 15-3 overall and 11-0 in the conference with games against Brookfield Central, West Allis Hale and Menomonee Falls left on the schedule. Divine Savior Holy Angels has three losses and can tie for first in the unlikely scenario that Sussex Hamilton loses its final three games, and the Dashers win all three of theirs.
Bill Scasny, who is in his fourth season as Sussex Hamilton's head coach, has his first title with the program, with DSHA winning each of the past three. Hamilton won the GMC in 2012-13.
"It means a lot, especially these seniors, four years of working with them," he said. "I think it means a lot to them. We weren't picked to win the conference. We've been playing hard, and we knew we'd be competitive. Everyone else in the conference is knocking each other off, and we've been able to find a way to win at the end. It's not pretty by any means, but to their credit, they find a way to pull it out."
The Chargers raced out to a 23-8 first-half lead while the Spartans were colder than the weather, hitting only 2 of 20 shots from the field. The league's top scorer, Macy Williams, had 9 points to lead all scorers at halftime.
Six different Chargers scored as Sussex Hamilton closed out the first half on a 12-3 run,
But East tried out a box-and-one defense at the end of the first half, and it started to work in the second half, as the Spartans went on a 16-6 run to cut the lead to 29-23. Molly DeValkenaere scored 8 of the points in the run, assisted by Adriana Plavsic twice.
But senior Jordan Fierst ripped the ball out of an East player's hand and passed off to Taylor Laboy for a layup. Fierst then scored three straight layups of her own, and her last one with 3 minutes, 51 seconds left in the game gave the Chargers a 35-24 lead and gave them their final field goal of the night.
"Our coach has always been telling us that everyone was going to come with their best game against us," Fierst said. "We have to be prepared. Sometimes, we let up on defense, and that's when they came back. Our big thing is grit, so we have to keep pushing no matter what the situation is."
The 5-foot-9 senior had to battle East's two 6-foot posts, DeValkenaere and Lizzy Cagle.
"I've always been shorter, but I've been a post starter for three years," she said. "My coaches have confidence in me, my teammates have confidence in me, and that helps me be motivated being undersized. That makes me want to work harder."
Scasny also praised his senior post.
"She uses her body well, she bangs around there," he said. "She's a heady player, nothing pretty, nothing spectacular. We rely on her for leadership, and we've been getting on her for shooting the ball more."
Hamilton went 9 for 13 at the free-throw line to close out the night, as the Spartans had to foul to try to get back in the game. Williams went 5 for 8, and Eliana Selin was 4 for 4 to lead the way. DeValkenaere led East with 15 points, and Cagle had 9.
East coach Michael Goodman was impressed with the Chargers.
"They're definitely a good team," he said. "I went into the season not thinking anyone would be undefeated, so props to them. There's not much bad you can say about a good team like that."