After his team's exhausting 30-29 WIAA Division 2 regional final win over Brown Deer, Whitefish Bay assistant girls basketball coach Dave Markson said to anyone who would listen:
"It's like Pat Summitt (the legendary Tennessee women's coach) says 'Just survive and advance.' "
Head coach Greg Capper was a little more philosophical.
"It's another step forward," he said. "We do this because we love the game. The girls are together for 4-1/2 months and they worked their butts off. They just play and play and play."
"And this is their reward."
With the win, the Blue Dukes (19-5) claimed their first regional title in five years and advanced to a WIAA sectional semifinal against Wauwatosa West (8-16) March 24 at Waukesha South (7 p.m.).
For Capper, this latest step in a five-year rebuilding program was necessary and welcome.
"We needed to get out of the regional," he said. "We were just tough enough to figure things out and just opportunistic enough to get the job done."
The job was completed by the likes of senior guard Leslie Fuda and junior forward Lyndsey Agnew.
After the Blue Dukes fought back from a nine-point first-half deficit to the Falcons (13-11), the game went back and forth.
Fuda's three-pointer gave Bay the lead at 26-23 with 3:25 remaining, but then Brown Deer center Ariel Feiertag countered that with a baseline three-ball of her own to tie the score with 2:50 left.
After Bay missed out on some scoring opportunities, Brown Deer guard Chelsea Stingley (seven points) hit a driving lay-up with just 1:04 left to gave the Falcons a 28-26 advantage.
And after the Blue Dukes' hurriedly put a shot, the Falcons had the ball and a chance to ice to the game, but that's when Fuda stepped up again, tipping an inbounds pass. She recovered the ball, got fouled and made two free throws to tie the score with just 31 seconds remaining.
"We had possession of the ball and a two-point lead," said Brown Deer coach Mark Busalacchi. "We just needed to get the ball inbounds."
But the Falcons took the lead again with just 22 seconds left after Stingley drove to the basket and was fouled. She made one of two free throws for a 29-28 advantage.
Bay brought the ball up and looked to get the ball into the middle. Agnew wound up with it in her hands from the short right wing and put it up calmly with five seconds to go. The ball swished and Bay had the lead.
In the subsequent confusion, Brown Deer lost control of the ball and fouled the Blue Dukes' Jessica Switzer with .7 of a second on the clock. She missed the free throw but the Falcons had no time to score.
"We all knew coming out (of the final timeout) that we needed just one basket," said Agnew, "but I knew that time was running out so I found an open lane and took the shot.
I told coach, if I found a lane in that situation I'd take the shot."
"I did and now it feels so good."
Bay was led by Agnew with nine points as Maya Jonas and Switzer had eight apiece.
For Busalacchi, whose team was led by Mariah Weddle with 14 points, it was a game effort and a lost opportunity.
"Our plan was to get in front and hold the ball a little," he said. "I told my assistant that if we won this game 32-30 I'd be happy. It turns out we were just a couple of points short."
"They had a great game plan," said Capper. "They tried to control the tempo and stay on offense and it almost worked. …but Leslie (Fuda) is the coolest customer I know. When she hit that three (to put Bay ahead), I knew it was in the second it left her hand."
"That shot just said 'I'm sick and tired of missing.'"
Fuda, who was around at the lowest points of Bay's rebuilding process three years ago, said winning the regional title was a dream come true.
"I was like 0 for a lot (shooting)," she said, "but I was glad I was able to hit the ones that counted. This is amazing that we're at this point. We've come so far as a program."
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