Challenge Met: Raider girls book trip to state tournament
Coach Tom Cowley had a challenge for his Arcadia girls basketball team.
Roughly 12 months ago, the Raiders lost in the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association sectional semifinal game to eventual state representative Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau. With all due respect to G-E-T, Cowley knew his team could've won — they defeated G-E-T just a few week earlier — and he knew his squad had the talent to take the next step and advance to the state tournament for the first time since 1998.
"We brought (the team) into the gym after that loss and I had the girls stare at our banner and I said 'ladies, next year we're going to put one next to 1998,'" Cowley said. "We're going to make it next year, but I need your help in doing so. You gotta get in that gym, you gotta work hard, you gotta give me some time. They delivered."
With the sectional final game against Saint Croix Falls tied at 43 with less than four minutes remaining at Baldwin-Woodville High School, it was his team's seniors and four-year starters who delivered down the stretch.
After not making any substitutions in the second half of the semifinal game, Cowley had to go to his bench twice against SCF. The first time was because senior Ellie Hoesley had a bloody nose. The second was because senior Linzy Sendelbach picked up her fourth foul with 11:20 remaining in the game.
As SCF made their move and got back in the game, Cowley had to take a chance and put one of the school's all-time leading scorers back in the game.
"I brought her back a little earlier than I might have normally," Cowley said.
But the move paid off.
Sendelbach got the ball under the basket and scored while drawing a foul — the fifth on SCF's Olivia Miron. The Arcadia senior sunk the free throw to put her team back ahead by three.
SCF came back with a basket on one possession and a free throw on the next to tie the game again, but Sendelbach again converted a contested layup to give the Raiders the lead again.
After SCF turned the ball over, the Raiders went to Sendelbach again. This time the senior broke free ahead of the pack and scored in transition to give Arcadia a four-point lead with 55 seconds left in the game.
The Raiders had trouble closing the game out, however.
After an SCF miss, the usually reliable Chloe Halverson missed two free throws with 38 seconds left. SCF missed again and Mercedes Romo split a pair.
After another SCF miss, Halverson made one of two to put the Raiders ahead by six with 12.9 seconds left, but the game still wasn't over.
The Saints made it interesting as Brianna McCurdy made a three pointer with 2.5 seconds left, cutting the Arcadia lead to three and making it a one-possession game.
The Raiders inbounded to Halverson who was fouled with 1.4 seconds left. With a chance to ice the game, Halverson missed both free throws as the second one rimmed out, but Hoesley came up with the rebound as the buzzer sounded giving the Raiders a 52-49 win.
Arcadia came out on fire as they scored the first seven points of the game and controlled the entire first half.
Halverson got the team going with a runner before Hoesley scored on a put-back on the next possession and Romo knocked in a three with 14:35 left in the first half.
The teams exchanged threes with Olivia Miron connecting for SCF's first points and Hannah Suchla responding for Arcadia. Hoesley later added a three before she and Sendelbach scored on consecutive possessions to put Arcadia ahead 17-6 with nine minutes left in the half.
The Saints offense got going fate that, but the Raiders were able to match them. SCF went on a run to cut the Arcadia lead to four at 20-16, but Hoesley made a three and Sendelbach scored off of a drive-and-dish by Hoesley.
McCurdy knocked down a three for SCF, but Arcadia went five-for-six from the free throw line to take a 30-19 lead with 16 seconds left in the half. The Saints would get on the board before halftime, however, as Emily McCurdy was fouled as the buzzer sounded and she made two free throws to make the score 30-21 at the intermission.
The Saints came out strong in the second half as sophomore Kaylee Miron made a three pointer and had two more three-point plays, scoring while drawing fouls, the second of which made the score 32-31 with 14:26 left in the game.
Halverson gave the Raiders breathing room with a three before Sendelbach made a free throw.
After Sendelbach had to sit with her fourth foul. Halverson and Hannah Suchla scored to put Arcadia ahead 40-32.
The Saints were on fire, however. Emily McCurdy made a three pointer and later added a three-point play to make the score 43-40. Lucia Neuman tied the game up with a deep three with 3:40 remaining.
From there, Cowley was able to rely on his seniors to close the game out and clinch the state tournament berth.
"They kept their focus, that has been our key all year long: keep your focus and I thought it stayed there the whole time," Cowley said.
While the game was tied late, the Raiders never trailed as they handed SCF just its second loss of the season. Sendelbach led Arcadia with 16 points, while Hoesley scored 13, Halverson finished with 10, Hannah Suchla scored seven, Romo added five and Abby Suchla had one.
Arcadia improved to 23-3 and will play at the Resch Center in Green Bay on Thursday afternoon, although the time and their opponent have yet to be announced. The tournament field includes Platteville (25-0), Wrightstown (24-2) and Lake Mills (24-2).
(Editor's Note: See more photos and an update on who Arcadia will play in this week's Times)