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March 09, 2012 | 10:41 PMJANESVILLE - With 4.4 seconds remaining in a WIAA Division 1 regional semifinal Friday night at Janesville Parker, the Badger girls basketball season hung in the balance.
Clinging to a 42-41 lead, the Lady Badgers watched as Parker's Dani Fugate's 3-pointer from the left wing bounced off the rim and over the backboard. When time expired, the Badger faithful erupted. Badger students collectively catapulted from the bleachers onto the floor. The fifth-seeded Badgers, fresh off winning their first conference title since 1998, upset perennial power Parker, the fourth seed, 42-41.
Badger improved to 16-7 and will advance to a Division 1 regional final Saturday at top-seeded Franklin at 4 p.m. Franklin (15-8) beat Beloit Memorial, 71-34, Friday. Parker finished the season 15-8.
Badger senior guard Emma Kopp, whose 3-pointer with 3 minutes left gave Badger a 41-38 lead, said this win was big for the Badger program. Badger assistant coach Tom Jooss, who coached Badger before his son David took over, lost several times to Parker in the past.
"This was for Papa Jooss (assistant coach Tom Jooss)," Kopp said. "They've (Parker) beat us for many years. He was getting sick of losing to them. We knew that we had to make it happen. It was a great experience. One of our biggest words this year was composure. We definitely held it there at the end."
Parker, a program which has won three Division 1 state titles and appeared in 12 state tournaments, led 16-15 in the second quarter. But Badger went on a furious 14-7 run to end the first half. Reeves hit two triples and Lana Wieseman added six points during the surge, and the Badgers went into halftime with a 29-23 lead.
The third quarter belonged to Parker. The Vikings reeled off an 11-4 period to take a 34-33 lead after three quarters.
Badger kept its composure, and the team's depth proved to be the difference. With Parker up 38-35, Badger backup guard Taylar Keenan raised up and drained a 3-pointer at the top of the key with 4:06 left to tie the game.
"For her to hit that shot, it really meant a lot and boosted our confidence," Kopp said. "We came back and played good defense and made it come down to the wire."
After a Parker timeout, Kopp, who hadn't seen many open looks all night, hit from long distance to give her team a 41-38 advantage with 3:08 left. Just before Kopp's bucket, Wieseman drove the lane and missed a layup but battled to save the ball from going out-of-bounds. Kopp picked up the loose ball and knocked down the triple.
After a Parker free throw and layup tied the game back up at 41-41 with 1:51 to play, Badger executed a nifty inbounds play off a timeout. Inbounding from just inside half court, the ball was tossed across court to a streaking Reeves, who went up for the layup but was fouled. She knocked down one of two foul shots, giving Badger a 42-41 lead in what would be the final point of the game.
Fugate had a chance to give her team the lead with 38 seconds left, but missed two crucial free throws. Then, like Keenan, another unheralded Badger, junior point guard Stephanie Espinosa, came up big. She dribbled around and stalled, and Parker didn't foul until 12.2 seconds remained on the clock.
Badger missed the one-and-one, but Fugate couldn't hit the potential game-winner.
Reeves led the Badgers with 15 points, and Wieseman added 13.
Badger coach David Jooss knew winning wasn't going to be easy.
"Parker has more tradition than any program in the state," he said. "But I like how our girls battled. This was the type of game that was going to come down to whoever made the last shot, and we were able to do that. I liked how they got us down, and we were able to come back and make big plays at the end."
Jooss said anything can happen against Franklin.
"We're going to have to rebound better," he said. "But the confidence level is very good. We feel like we have an opportunity to win. Hopefully our depth can help us out tomorrow."
Check Wednesday's Regional News for more from Badger girls basketball. And like "Regional News Sports Check" for access to an exclusive photo gallery from tonight's game.