In the eyes of Franklin girls' basketball coach Tony Kathrens, what happened Friday night in the Sabers 52-34 loss to rival Oak Creek, was as predictable as snow and cold in winter.
The Sabers knew what was going to happen and still they couldn't stop it.
"The difference between them and us this year, is that they have senior leadership," he said. "We had the benefit of it the last few years and were able to use it to great effect.
"This year, they have it. They run their plays, they execute effectively and tonight they just outplayed in every phase of the game, especially defensively.
"It's just very predictable, when you have two 6-2 division I athletes (Tamya Sims and Stephanie Kostowicz) and another 6-0 who's a high division 2 (Katie Finn), it's just hard to match up with.
"What are you going to do?"
Not nearly as much as the Sabers needed or wanted, as the Knights improved to 9-0 in Southeast Conference play and 14-2 overall. They secured a season sweep of Franklin (7-2, 10-4) with the victory and gave themselves a two-game lead in the Southeast Conference race.
Oak Creek can almost taste its second straight league title already.
"It feels good," said Kostowicz, who led all scorers with 19 points. "Back-to-back conference champs would look really good on a t-shirt. It sounds good too."
Coach Steve Hluchnik agreed, as the Knights won their second game since their pivotal nonconference victory over Pius XI on Jan. 21.
"It took us awhile to figure things out (offensively)," he said. "We may have settled for threes a little too often, but even if we miss shots we can still make the commitment to play defense. I really think the kids are starting to buy into that now."
And that commitment was evident right from the get-go Friday night, because as exciting as the boys' game was in the opener of the boy-girl twinbill between the two schools, the girls' nightcap was equally as unexciting, and a lot of that had to do with the Knight defense.
Oak Creek had the lead right from the start and the closest it was was 4-3 in the first quarter. Despite the Knights hoisting a few too many 3-pointers for Hluchnik's taste, both Kostowicz and Hannah Settingsgaard hit long-range bombs to help the Knights earn a 12-5 first quarter lead.
All told, Oak Creek would hit seven threes on the night.
What had to be frustrating to Kathrens and the Sabers, the lead went up 23-11 at the half even as Kostowicz sat out the last six minutes of the second quarter and the first two minutes of the third with three fouls.
Franklin closed the deficit to 18-11 with 2:50 left in the half but would not score again, as Finn hit a trey and Sims powered her way to a basket on a drive.
With Kostowicz out of the game, Sims became the defensive stopper, she would finish with six deftly executed blocks, most of the time frustrating the Sabers' talented 5-10 sophomore forward Carly Graverson who would finish with only two points.
"It's all about timing," said Sims about her shot-blocking technique. "Defense is definitely something we can work on all the time."
In the third quarter, the offense picked it up, as Kostowicz came back in and went to work, scoring eight of her points in the session as the advantage stayed a healthy 37-24.
Four of those points came after a a transition hoop by the Sabers' Paige Bobos closed the gap to 28-21, but then Kostowicz hit two free throws and followed that with a nice give-and-go hoop.
It got to eight one more time on a Bobos three-point play with 2:05 left, but then Settingsgaard hit another 3 and Kostowicz put in her own putback to close out the scoring in the session.
The advantage would never drop out of double digits again and would get as high as 22 (52-30) in the fourth quarter.
"Things we can do against almost every other team in the conference we just couldn't against them," said Kathrens. "They were blocking everything in sight."
Oak Creek finished with 11 blocks as a team.
Bobos would finish with 10 and Morgan McCuen eight for the Franklin.
Meanwhile, the Knights celebrated some nicely tuned balance. Kostowicz would add seven rebounds and two blocks to her point total, while Sims had 14 points and three rebounds.
Settingsgaard had an impressive floor game from her guard position with 11 points, five steals and four assists. Hluchnik praised both her and point guard Jenna Santi profusely.
"Jenna did a great job controlling the floor and Hannah did so many things well, defending the toughest player on the other team, and distributing the ball," said Hluchnik. "...In the second half, we finally started hitting a few shots and we were able to get the backbreaker in."
Everyone on Oak Creek feels that the first major goal of the season, the conference title, is now within close reach.
"It feels good," said Sims. "We had a few setbacks early but we're doing a good job putting them behind us."
"The first goal (conference), is now close," said Hluchnik. "I like our chances as long as they continue to improve and keep listening to me (laughs)."
And in a bad omen for future opponents, the Knights just might do that.
"We can always get better," said Kostowicz.
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