The 13-point first half lead had been erased and replaced by a five-point deficit and fouls were decimating the ranks of the Franklin girls basketball team in the semifinals of its own Rathke Memorial Tournament against Germantown Tuesday evening.
A repeat of last year's semifinal loss to the Warhawks was very much in the offing for the Sabers, but senior guard Abby Schauer and her friends were not going to let that happen.
A few moments after the Warhawks' Olivia Verdin cashed a post shot to make it 63-61 Germantown with 43 seconds left, Schauer roared down the length of the floor for a tieing lay-up.
A few moments after a Germantown miss, Schauer hit one of two free throws to give the Sabers the lead for good at 64-63 with 19 seconds left.
The Warhawks then missed two shots underneath, including one by unstoppable junior guard Kenzie Schmitz who finished with a game-high 32 points.
Franklin senior guard Madison Schell then hit two free throws to make it 66-63 with three seconds left.
After two Warhawks time-outs, Schmitz got off a desperation heave from behind the key that was off the mark. With that, the Sabers were headed to Wednesday's Rathke championship game against Kenosha St. Joseph's.
It was a long-time coming said Schauer, who led the Sabers with 19 points.
"It seemed like we just never win the games that are really close or against teams that we're not supposed to beat," said Schauer. "I think we finally turned a corner. I think this team has really come together."
Her coach Tony Kathrens agreed, as the Sabers advanced to the final of the eighth annual Rathke for the first time since the only time they won it in 2012.
"This is what we have this year," he said. "This is a team through and through and they're getting it done on the court."
For Germantown (7-3), it was a disappointing loss, especially coming off its impressive victory over previously unbeaten and top-ranked in state Middleton in its Monday quarterfinal.
Germantown was down by as much as 13 in the first half (28-15), only to come back and take a 58-53 lead with 3:58 remaining, but the Warhawks could not make enough plays down the stretch.
"This happened to us after we beat Homestead, we came out a little flat against Grafton (in the next game)," Warhawk coach Matt Stuve said. "It just seems that everytime we beat a quality opponent (like Middleton) we come out flat in the next game. We don't play with the same intensity and urgency.
"I think if we play the whole game with the intensity and urgency that we did in the second half we win by 10 or 12. We just need to learn to compete for the entire 36 minutes."
Germantown will play DSHA in the third place game at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at Franklin.
Meanwhile, the Sabers, who beat Milwaukee King in Monday's quarterfinals, imnproved to 6-4 on the season and will play for the Rathke championship at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday against Kenosha St. Joseph's (8-0),
The Lancers upset the defending WIAA state D1 champion and two-time Rathke titlist DSHA, 66-60, in the other semifinal.
The Franklin victory, as noted, was a bit vengeance for a loss to the Warhawks in last season's Rathke semifinals. The tournament is always an emotional thing for the Sabers, as it honors the late Christine Rathke, the program's best player in history, who was killed in an auto accicdent at the too young age of 20 in 2003.
"I get a little emotional, a little choked up about this," said Kathrens, "because it means so much for us to play well in this tournament. You have to understand the concept of Christine Rathke and how hard she played the game and what she means to this program."
For Schauer and the rest of the Sabers, who struggled mightily offensively in the first three weeks of the season, it is also an important moment.
"We haven't been there since I've been here (on varsity)," said Schauer. "So this is very exciting."
As was the game.
The Sabers played tight and strong defense in the first half as the high-pressure, high-intensity Warhawks struggled to find their range.
Meanwhile, the Sabers, who had four players score in double figures this game, hit five 3-pointers in the opening session and were cruising to a strong finish of the first half, when the Warhawks went on a 6-0 run to close the gap to 34-28 at the break.
They didn't let off the gas in the second half.
Schmitz, who had a big game in the semifinal win over Franklin last season, hit a 3 to open the second session and she was off and running. She would score the first 16 Germantown points in the half.
She ended that run with another trey (she would finish with four on the night) that cut the Saber lead to 45-44 with 11:33 left.
"She is just a sensational player," said Kathrens of Schmitz.
A few moments later, sophomore guard Taylor Weitermann hit a trey of her own to give Germantown its first advantage since it was 13-12 early in the first half.
Saber forward Carly Graverson would hit back-to-back 3s of her own (sandwiched around another Schmitz bomb) to give Franklin a 53-52 advantage with 6:05 to go.
But the Warhawks pushed back.
Schmitz cashed a drive, Verdin knocked down a putback and then Verdin slipped in a pair of free throws to make it 58-53 Germantown with 3:58 to go.
That's when a moment of doubt hit Kathrens.
"I'm telling you," he said. "I thought it was going to happen like it has all season. We lose the lead and then we lose the game."
But it didn't, not even when Graverson fouled out with 1:54 left and not even when all-purpose forward Sarah Neumann followed her to the bench with 1:10 to go.
Because Schauer wouldn't let it.
A strong ballhandler, who said her favorite thing to do in basketball "is to dribble" Schauer put the team on her back.
After watching her stretch performance, Kathrens could only shake his head in amazement.
"Abby is very opportunistic as a player," he said. "She knows she has my blessing (to take chances out on the perimeter and to go to the basket when she sees an opening). ...We want to keep our instruction limited in situations like that because the best basketball players are the ones who can make strong decisions independent of me."
Graverson added 13 points for the Sabers while Neumann and Schell added 12 apiece. Graverson and Schell drained three 3-pointers each.
Meanwhile for Germantown, Piper Brown and Verdin helped Schmitz with 11 apiece.
"We always like coming down here," Stuve said, "because its hard to find quality competition sometimes. ...Franklin played well. They do what they normally do and hit a lot of shots when they really need to."
As for the Sabers, they're just glad they have a chance at the last word in their signature tournament.
"We're where we want to be," said Kathrens. "In the final of Christine's Tournament."
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