It went from a potential blowout to a ballgame to an intense battle of the best.
And just when it looked like New London was going to survive a wild series of swings and momentum shifts, the game slipped away from the Bulldogs and ended painfully.
New London’s bid to win a third straight state title was thwarted by a die-hard New Berlin Eisenhower team that rallied from a dreadful start to emerge with a stunning 48-47 victory in a WIAA Division 2 girls’ basketball state thriller Friday afternoon at the Resch Center.
The Lions (25-2) will play Notre Dame Academy today at 6:35 p.m. in a Division 2 state championship.
In avenging a four-point loss to New London in last year’s state title game, New Berlin Eisenhower snapped the Bulldogs’ incredible 68-game winning streak and prevented them from competing for a rare third straight state championship.
“You had two really good teams battling out there,” said New London coach Andrea Flease. “It’s a big stage and girls are going to hit shots. We just didn’t make the plays when we needed to.”
What made the loss tough to accept for New London (26-1) was that the fast-starting Bulldogs led by as many as 15 in the second quarter and took a 44-40 lead into the final minute.
“I’ve been coaching a long time and I have to say this was one of the most exciting games that I’ve coached and watched,” said New Berlin Eisenhower coach Gary Schmidt. “I can’t stop shaking right now. That clock. I kept looking at that clock. I’m elated.”
This classic state tournament thriller was tied 10 times and the lead changed hands another 11 occasions.
New Berlin Eisenhower seniors Jenny Weiland and Erin Ganzke made clutch plays in the closing minute to end the Bulldogs’ tremendous tournament run.
Weiland, a Winona State recruit, drained a big three-pointer with 58 seconds left to slash the four-point New London lead to one with 58 seconds left. The Bulldogs’ Amber Pethke quickly answered with an inside basket, but Ganzke nailed two free throws with 29.2 seconds left to cut the gap to 46-45.
New London’s Mickey Roland hit the first of two free throws to put the Bulldogs up 47-45 with 17.8 seconds left. But Ganzke broke the heart of the Bulldogs with the play of the year for the Lions. The 5-5 point guard knifed inside the lane and scored on a driving layup with 7.1 seconds left. She was fouled on the shot and sank the critical free throw to complete a three-point play for the game-winning points.
“We originally set up for a three-point shot,” said Ganzke, who finished with 16 points “As I was dribbling down, I saw this gap open up and I just reacted and went for it.”
New London still had an opportunity to pull the game out. But the Bulldogs couldn’t get a clean look and called a timeout with 1.4 seconds left. Twice, New London tried to inbound the ball, but the Lions’ Chelsea Brackmann knocked away both passes, setting up a final inbounds play with 0.8 seconds left.
The Bulldogs’ Gretl Steingraber tried to lob a difficult pass inside the lane to Heise, but the ball sailed over Heise’s head and a hurried shot at the buzzer by Cambria Fitzgerald was off the mark.
“These are the kind of games you live for,” said Heise, who topped the Bulldogs with 19 points. “You always dream about making a buzzer beater in a state game. I knew I could possibly outjump the girl guarding me, but the ball didn’t go exactly where I wanted it to. We fought hard, but a couple bounces went their way and they got the win.”
Heise hit a pair of three-pointers and Mickey Roland drilled another in the first quarter to get the Bulldogs off to a terrific start. The Bulldogs scored 11 of the game’s first 13 points and built a 21-6 lead early in the second quarter.
But New London couldn’t put New Berlin Eisenhower away. The Lions turned the game around with an enormous 13-0 run to slash the Bulldogs’ lead to 21-19 at the half.
“We came out ready to play,” said Flease. “In the second quarter, we got hesitant offensively.”
Weiland led the Lions’ game-changing run with five of her team-high 17 points.
“I told the kids after our second timeout that we’re not quitters,” said Schmidt. “We’ve got fire in our hearts. When a team comes back from that much in a game of this magnitude, well, I just couldn’t be prouder of my team.”
New London shot just 29.3 percent from the floor and had an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers, three more than the Lions.
It was the final high school game for Heise, who was an impact player on New London’s state championship teams in 2011 and 2012.
“I couldn’t have pictured my career going any better,” said Heise. “I finished my career with four losses total, three state appearances and two gold balls. Another gold ball would have been nice, but I don’t know what else I could have asked for.”
New Berlin Eisenhower: Ganzke 16, Kozlowski 5, Weiland 17, Lang 6, Hahn 1, Hesselbach 3. Totals 16 18-23 48. Fouls 20. Three-pointers: Weiland 2. Fouled out: Kozlowski.
New London: Fitzgerald 5, Pethke 7, Heise 19, M. Roland 11, Steingraber 4, Schlieve 1. Totals 17 18-25 47. Fouls 21. Three-pointers: Heise 4, M. Roland 1.
— Tim Froberg: 920-993-1000, ext. 423, or email@example.com; On Twitter @twfroberg