The joy in their eyes said it all.
After an over-12 year long stretch of futility against their crosstown rival Oshkosh West, the Oshkosh North girls basketball team finally cleared that hurdle.
And it couldn’t have happened at a better time.
The Spartans survived a furious fourth-quarter Wildcats rally to beat West 40-34 for the first time since 2000 and secured a regional title in process at the Oshkosh North Fieldhouse on Saturday.
“We knew what we had to do,” junior Brooklyn Schamens said. “We rebounded well, our defense was really good today. Defense won the game for us.”
West defeated the Spartans twice during the regular season to extend the streak. But North got the final laugh, finally beating the Wildcats and moving on to sectionals.
“I think when we lost to them the second time, we were really upset going into the locker room,” senior Nicole Herkert said. “But then coach (Rachel Biertzer) said it was just a regular season game. It doesn’t count for anything.
“We knew that this one did. We just had to move on, look at this one and that’s what we did.”
It didn’t come without a fight, however. North took a 30-13 lead into the fourth quarter, dominating the Wildcats in the first three frames.
But West came out in the fourth quarter on a tear, going on a 19-5 run to cut the Spartans lead to 35-32 with about two minutes left to go.
North got settled, though. Herkert converted 1-of-2 at the free throw line and Liz Redlin scored a layup to make it 38-32 Spartans.
“We had to keep up the intensity,” Schamens said. “We couldn’t get down on ourselves just because they made a basket to decrease the lead. We just had to keep pushing forward.”
West would pull closer on the next possession on a Marina Hereford layup to make it 38-34 with about a minute left.
The Wildcats would have one more shot to inch closer. But Jaime Schmidt missed the front end of a bonus and Hereford missed a jumper on the ensuing rebound, sealing the win for North.
“That was the one team that you are like, ‘I really want to beat them,'” Herkert said of finally beating West. “To have lost to them our whole careers until this year and our last game playing them, it makes it just that much better.”
The Spartans got off to a big start right away thanks to their defense. North came out in a 1-3-1 trap and smothered the Wildcats right off the bat, holding them to just five points in the first half.
“They definitely came out the aggressor and attacking on both ends tonight,” West coach Niki Sutter said of North. “We were way too tenative. Mentally, we weren’t prepared.”
The Spartans’ offense came from their defense, especially in the second quarter when North would go on a 15-0 run to end the frame and take a 20-5 lead to the break.
“I think once we got the baskets going our team energy is a lot better,” Herkert said. “It was all on the defensive end. When we were getting stops on the defensive end, that made us more energetic and we moved more on offense.”
That defense would hold in the third as well but couldn’t do the same in the fourth. North coach Rachel Biertzer feels like her team can grow from what they did in the fourth quarter moving forward.
“We learned some things with that,” she said. “A couple of shots that we probably didn’t need to take and a little bit of ball control and a good team like that, they are going to make a run. We were able to hang on.”
Schamens and Herkert each had 10 for the Spartans, while Redlin and Kiaya Adams had seven apiece in the win.
West was led by Deidra Unger, who scored a game-high 14 points in the loss.
For the Wildcats, who lose only one senior this year, this year was a big learning experience and Sutter feels like it will only make her team better down the road.
“I think we took a lot of strides as a team this year,” she said. “I think our kids grew up a lot, especially today, and hopefully they learned a lot.”
For North, they aren’t done. They face off against Neenah at Oshkosh West in a sectional semifinal on Thursday. They know they can celebrate this one, but come next week, it’s back to work.
“We haven’t hit all of our goals yet,” Biertzer said. “That should be motivation enough to keep them focused on the task at hand.”
Notes: North’s win was the first over West since Nov. 28, 2000, an almost 13 year span…Rachel Christopherson also hit double figures for the Wildcats with 10.
Game ball: Redlin, who hit the big layup late to give North the cushion they would need and for being a key part at the top of the 1-3-1 zone for the Spartans.
By the numbers: 12, the number of turnovers by West in the first half when North built up their 20-5 lead.
Oshkosh West…3 2 8 21 — 34
Oshkosh North…5 15 10 10 — 40
Oshksoh West: Hereford 2, Unger 14, Tigert 2, Edwards 4, Christopherson 10, Wells 2. 3-pointers: 0. FT: 4-9. Total fouls: 14
Oshkosh North: Welsh 4, Westemeier 2, Redlin 7, Herkert 10, Schamens 10, Adams 7. 3-pointers: 2 (Schamens 2). FT: 8-10. Total fouls: 13.