Tags: Feature Sports Story
Badger guard Stephanie Espinosa led the team with 5.1 assists per game this season.
Senior Lana Wieseman goes up for a shot during the Friday night game at Parker.
March 14, 2012 | 07:49 AMFRANKLIN — The Franklin girls basketball team is becoming a thorn in the side of the Lady Badgers.
On Saturday, for the second straight year, the Sabers downed Badger in a WIAA Division 1 regional final. Franklin utilized a 10-4 third quarter and held on for the 40-34 victory.
Fifth-seeded Badger finished its season 16-8, while top-seeded Franklin improved to 17-8 and will advance to a sectional semifinal Thursday at Badger.
Badger jumped out to a 20-15 lead late in the second quarter, but Franklin went into halftime with a 23-22 lead thanks to an 8-0 run. Franklin picked up its defensive intensity during the spurt, and two Badger turnovers turned into points.
In the third quarter, nine of Franklin's 10 points came on 3-pointers. Badger's first points of the second half came on a Karina Reeves bucket at the 4:30 mark, which cut the Franklin lead to 27-24. But the Sabers nailed two triples and built a 33-24 lead with a minute left in the period. Despite an aggressive zone defense from Badger, Franklin took its time on offense, finding open looks from beyond the arc. The Sabers connected on seven triples in the game.
"It was difficult because they decided to stall," said Badger senior Emma Kopp. "Due to lack of a shot clock they were able to control the third quarter. We were also in foul trouble so we had to play zone."
Playing with four fouls, Badger senior Lana Wieseman made one of two free throws with 2:08 remaining to cut the Franklin lead to 36-32. Wieseman and Reeves scored all the points in a mini 6-0 run which started the comeback. But that was the closest Badger would come as Franklin's "keep away" offense slowed the game down in the end. Reeves missed a corner 3-pointer which would've made it a one-possession game with less than a minute left. Franklin then knocked down two free throws with 18 seconds left to make it 40-32 and ice the victory.
"We knocked down a lot of shots early, and we struggled to score later," Badger coach David Jooss said. "It comes down to defense and rebounding. And I thought we did a good enough job in those areas to win. When two good teams are going at it, sometimes it's going to be who goes on the last run. And Franklin kind of did. Sometimes, you play hard and you follow the game plan, and the other team is good, too."
To the surprise of Jooss, Franklin slowed things down in the third quarter during its game-changing run. Even with a slim lead in the third, Franklin made it a point to work the clock on offense.
"I was very surprised by that," Jooss said. "They like to get up and down, and when they took the air out, we let them because we had some foul trouble. I was OK with them holding the ball, and it allowed us to rest because some kids played some big-time minutes."
Wieseman, who led Badger with 14 points, picked up her second foul in the first quarter and was forced to sit often throughout the game. Lily Quinn came in as a defensive replacement at times in the fourth quarter.
"Lana's fourth hurt because we had to take her out a lot more," Jooss said. "It's hard to get into a rhythm offensively when you have to go offense-defense for a whole quarter."
Wieseman said Franklin played well in the second half.
"They pressured a lot and played good defense," she said. "They were hitting shots. Early in the season, I got in foul trouble a couple times. It sucks because you can't play all out. That's always hard."
Franklin opened the game up 5-0, but three Kopp long-range bombs closed the gap to one point after the first quarter. Badger went on an 8-3 run to open the second quarter fueled by two Wieseman layups and a Reeves triple. But after Badger led 20-15, Franklin reeled off a 25-14 run in the game's final 18 minutes.
Kopp added nine points, and Reeves finished with eight.
A season to remember
Badger earned four more wins than last year (12-11) and picked up its first outright conference title since 1998.
Wieseman led the Geneva Lake area with 18.5 points per game and surpassed the 1,000-point plateau for her career.
"This year, the team is so much closer," an emotional Wieseman said after Saturday's game. "We definitely worked well as a team, and that was special. I will miss the coaching the most."
Badger earned a huge playoff victory over Janesville Parker, a program which has won three state titles and has appeared in 12 state tournaments.
Jooss said his team's effort was outstanding.
"Some of our seniors don't get minutes, but it doesn't mean they didn't play their hearts out in practice. It's not unnoticed by me. I think all our kids play hard, and that's what made us good. They get after it and they don't quit. They dealt with adversity and were able to have a good season."
Jooss said the program is on its way up.
"The seniors helped put this program where it is," he said. "We went from sixth (in SLC) two years ago to second last year and now winning the conference. And beating a program like Parker with prestige and tradition, Badger hasn't done that in awhile. The younger girls are learning from great people."
Wieseman and Kopp (11.5 points per game) had solid seasons and will most likely earn SLC all-conference honors for a second straight season. Jooss said they will be missed.
"They've set the bar really high for what a student-athlete is," he said. "They're both 4.0 students, and we're fortunate we've had them. Both are multiple-sport athletes. They will be missed not just in basketball but also in the classroom and in their other sports."
Wieseman, Kopp, Monica Leedle, Annie Gaugert and Abigail Lilla finished their final seasons as Badgers.
Kopp said it was a special year.
"Winning conference is a great feeling and will be an accomplishment we will never forget," she said. "I will miss being a part of such a great team, and I will also miss the coaches because they had the most impact on our season and always did their best to make sure we were at the top of our game."
Gaugert agreed with Kopp on the season's significance.
"We made history for the Badger girls basketball program, and I feel honored to have contributed to a team like we had this year," she said.