For Oak Creek girls basketball coach Steve Hluchnik the third time was the charm.
Hluchnik has been coaching the Knights girls basketball team for five seasons and he has reached the sectional finals three times. On Saturday at West Allis Central - his old haunting grounds - Hluchnik's team took the next step and easily defeated Brookfield Central, 46-25, to win his first sectional championship and head to next week's WIAA State Girls Basketball Tournament.
Oak Creek began three of four quarters with a run - 10-0 to start the game; 7-0 to begin the second half and 8-0 to start the final quarter.
Both West Allis Central and Racine Case in the regional and Franklin in the sectional semifinal kept the game close for one quarter, so Hluchnik stressed getting off to a fast start.
"I didn't want to talk about it at practice and make it an issue," he said, "but I think it showed coming out today that they were ready."
The closest the Lancers got in the second half was eight points, 30-22 with 2:40 left in the third quarter on back-to-back 3-pointers by freshman Caroline Busch.
But Oak Creek junior Hannah Settingsgaard countered with a 3 of her own and the Knights led 33-22 after three quarters.
The Lancers only basket in the fourth quarter was an old-fashioned 3-point play by Nicole Hinz, as she scored on a drive, was fouled and sank the free throw, with 2:59 left to play.
"At least we got shots in the fourth quarter," a disappointed Central coach Dan Wandrey said. "The first four or five times in the first quarter we turned the ball over and didn't even get a shot. It was tough. We did some good things to get shots, but we weren't creating some of the opportunities that we normally do. And that credit goes to them. They were all over us and they really made it tough."
The Knights defense was outstanding, led by 6-2 senior forwards Step Kostowicz and Tamya Sims, who can play inside, yet handle the ball like guards. Central had no one who could match up with them on either side of the court.
"Both of those kids can guard guards," Hluchnik said. "There's not too many (big) kids who can do that. It gives us a humongous advantage. I can put Sims on the other team's best player and that causes havoc. Settingsgaard is unbelievable on the ball. All our kids can play defense."
Kostowicz (8 points), Sims (7) and Settingsgaard (6) scored all the Knights points in the first half as the Knights led 21-14. BC's Lydia Rohde scored all 6 of her points in the first half.
"Hannah has always been a good shooter," Hluchnik said of Settingsgaard, "but the last month she has been a dynamic shooter. With her and Katie Finn, we have two kids who make it hard to go down and double us all the time."
Wandrey then talked about the Knight's offense.
"They seemed to get a basket whenever they wanted," he said. "If we stopped them from taking a 3 then they would drive to the basket. We didn't even give them an arm's length after awhile.
"We just had too many turnovers, too many missed opportunities to be able to keep scoring with them."
Hluchnik also talked about his offense and defense.
"We have some shooters, but some nights we don't hit our shots - Sims was a little cold in the first half - we can get away with that if we play defense and we have done that all year," Hluchnik said. "It goes unrecognized how well we play defense."
Settingsgaard talked about their offensive philosophy.
"From the beginning our coach always told us we have to work the ball in and out. You know when you get the ball to the post they're going to finish, but if they get double teamed we just focus on knocking it down."
Kostowicz agreed with her teammate.
"That's what we practice on. Getting the ball in, kicking it out," she said. "If we execute, it goes in our favor. It helps so much when they are hitting their shots, when they are hitting their 3's, it's unbelievable."
Both Settingsgaard and Kostowicz were thrilled with going to the state tournament.
"It's undescribable. Undescribable," Settingsgaard said.
"It's a great way to end my senior year," Kostowicz added. "But we're not finished yet. We have a few more games left and we're hoping for the best."
Kostowicz led the way with 15 points, Sims had 14 and Settingsgaard finished with 13. Busch had 9, Hinz added 8 and Rohde didn't score in the second half as Sims guarded her for most of the night.
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