The Oak Creek girls basketball team surrendered 42 shots from the charity stripe Saturday night, but they certainly didn’t give anything away for free against Milwaukee King.
In a bruising and physical sectional final, the Generals topped the Knights, 74-65, at Whitefish Bay. The teams went toe to toe in a game that featured eight lead changes and four ties before King could find sufficient breathing room, something the Generals could not do in the regular season against Oak Creek.
Supplementing its perfect 12-0 record in the City Conference, King improved to 20-6 overall and will play Middleton next weekend in the Division 1 state semifinal. Oak Creek finished the year as sectional runner-up with a record of 19-7 overall, splitting a pair of games with King.
“I thought the seniors responded really well to the pressure of the game and the pressure of the entire season,” King head coach Craig Machut said. “They’ve had one goal in mind all year and one goal to accomplish.
“We’ve played a very difficult schedule to prepare us for games like tonight.”
Freshman point guard Shakeela Fowler led all scorers with 28 points, 19 of them coming in the second half. Fowler played a key role in an 11-0 third-quarter run that put King ahead for good after it had trailed most of the first half. At the end of the first half, Fowler converted on a half court shot at the buzzer to cut the halftime Oak Creek lead to just four points.
“We practice the half court shot every practice before a game,” Machut said. “It’s a fun way to end practice and the shot was a big momentum builder.”
Morgan Kokta, a junior, led Oak Creek with 18 points but spent significant time on the bench during the second half due to foul trouble.
“It was helter skelter out there and we needed someone to settle us down so I tried my best,” Kokta said. “When I got into foul trouble, we just needed to try to calm down and regain control of the game.”
The Generals made 25 of the aforementioned 42 free throw attempts while Oak Creek went 18 for 25 from the line.
“There were a lot of free throws,” Machut said. “The game was called tight both ways and we were fortunate enough to make a lot of our throws.”
Frantic play started just after the tip-off as the Generals full-court press started forcing turnovers, and the Knights defense refused to give an inch. King was called for offensive charging fouls on the first two possessions of the game trying to create off of Oak Creek turnovers. Two free throws from sophomore Stephanie Kostowicz gave Oak Creek the lead 15-13 after one quarter despite the fact that King got to the line five times early on.
“I think we did well to control the tempo in the first half,” Knights coach Steve Hluchnik said. “We got into the half court set and that is what we needed.
“It was a physical game, they got to the line and that was a big difference.”
Before Fowler’s heroic half-court heave ended the first half, Oak Creek had been in control of the game and working with a balanced attack. Eight different Knights scored in the first half, the last one being sophomore Katie Finn, knocking down a 3-pointer to give Oak Creek a seven point lead. That would be as good as it got for the Knights with four seniors, Abby Styczynski, Maggie Wilke, Chandler Gilmeister and Rebecca Running, finishing up long careers together.
“I am happy I got to play with those girls because we’ve been playing together since the fourth grade,” Styczynski said. “It is really awesome to be able to play with them from the beginning and now to be together at the end.
“It was an honor to be playing tonight and it’s fantastic how far we got.”
Hluchnik was equally as proud to be sharing the court with his veteran cagers and proud of the accomplishments they have made.
“We’ve got four great seniors that have been with us since their sophomore year,” Hluchnik said. “They are good kids, hard workers and they’ve been leaders for us throughout this tournament.”