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Oak Creek girls lose battle for second in SEC, begin WIAA postseason play

Despite ending season with a loss, Knights will host regional this weekend

March 6, 2012

Oak Creek - Not many basketball teams can win a game after going scoreless for close to six minutes while trying to maintain an eight-point lead.

But then again, they probably weren't playing defense like the Muskego girls were Feb. 29 against archrival Oak Creek, as the Warriors did just enough defensively and got five big free throws late from Ashley Colla in a 39-35 victory over the host Knights.

"I've told the girls that we'll go as far (in the upcoming WIAA tournament) as our defense can carry us," said Warriors coach Brian Hirtz. "We got stops when we needed them. We forced a couple of turnovers, got some big blocked shots. That really kept us going."

With the win, Muskego, which was playing its final Southeast Conference game before heading to the Classic 8 next season, moved into a tie for second in the league standings with Franklin at 10-4. The Warriors finished the regular season with an overall mark of 15-7, while Oak Creek fell to fourth in the final SEC standings at 9-5 with a 16-6 overall record.

Oak Creek coach Steve Hluchnik was not pleased with the effort on his team's senior night.

"We just had way too many turnovers," he said, "and they weren't even in the backcourt. Their press wasn't bothering us, but we were running around with our heads cut off going 1,000 miles an hour. No one stepped up when we needed it."

Both teams begin WIAA tourney action Friday.

The game was a defensive struggle marred by many turnovers and even more missed shots.

Oak Creek took its largest lead at 17-8 on a three-pointer from point guard Morgan Kokta at the 6:25 mark of the second quarter, but the Knights would score just three more points the remainder of the quarter as the Warriors got a critical three-point play from guard Jessica Mlachnik with just two seconds remaining to close the deficit to 20-17 at the half.

Two free throws from Oak Creek's leading scorer Steph Kostowicz (16 points) gave the Knights their last lead of the night at 24-22 with 4:31 left in the third quarter.

Muskego's Jessica Cattani gave Muskego its first lead since the first quarter at 25-24. The Warriors took control for good on a basket from Renee Bennett at the 1:17 mark of the third.

Muskego's height inside often flummoxed the Knights, but Oak Creek did not help itself in the third quarter by twice missing both chances in a two-shot free throw situation. All told, they were just 3 of 8 from the line in the quarter and just 12 of 23 for the game.

Muskego led 29-25 going into the fourth quarter and the lead increased to 33-25 on two Colla free throws at the 7:25 mark of the fourth.

After a Kaitlyn Hein free throw at the 6:42 mark made it 34-27 Muskego, the Warriors wouldn't score again for close to six minutes.

A basket for Kostowicz and two free throws from Kokta helped Oak Creek close the gap to 34-31 with 3:36 left, but neither team then scored for another two minutes.

Kostowicz hit two free throws with 1:22 remaining to close the gap to 34-33 with 1:22 left and the Knights seemed to have all the momentum going their way, when Mlachnik (13 points) fouled out on a controversial offensive foul just seven seconds later.

But shortly thereafter, Kostowicz's go-ahead bucket was wiped out by a charge.

Colla finally hit a free throw at the 44-second mark to end the drought, making it 35-33. After another pair of stops, she hit two sets of two free throws apiece at the 24- and 20-second marks to clinch the win.

"It really wasn't very pretty," said Hirtz, "but that's what will happen with two good coaches who have scouted the other team hard and who make everybody work for whatever they get (on the offensive end)."

Cattani added 11 for Muskego while Colla scored eight points, all from the foul line.

Kostowicz scored 16 points, but no one else scored more than seven for Oak Creek.

"It was senior night, and now those seniors have to take charge," said Hluchnik. "Unless they do, I don't see us going very far in the (WIAA) tournament."

WIAA tourney starts this week

UP NEXT: The Knights earned the second seed in their half of the WIAA Division 1 Whitefish Bay Sectional and will host the winner of Milwaukee Pulaski/Milwaukee Hamilton in a regional semifinal at 7 p.m. Friday. If they win, they will host the winner of third-seeded South Milwaukee and sixth-seeded Greenfield in a regional final on Saturday (TBA). Oak Creek won a regional championship last season.

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