After losing a senior leader to a serious injury in the midst of a tough loss, the Brookfield Central girls basketball team was looking to respond at the Hank Raymonds Holiday Classic.
All in all, the Lancers did just that.
Brookfield Central played well in a 53-42 loss to a strong Madison Edgewood team on Nov. 30 before dispatching Milwaukee Riverside, 61-37, on Dec. 3 to take third place in the annual tournament held at Pius XI High School.
"Edgewood is a really good team, and they're ranked No. 1 in the state for a reason," Brookfield Central coach Mallory Liebl said. "That game proved to our girls that regardless of the injuries and adversity we are facing, we are still a good basketball team. I don't schedule nonconference games to rack up wins, I schedule them to get us better and prepared to make a run at the end of the season, and our girls trust in that process."
The Lancers got out to a quick start against the Crusaders, which are ranked No. 1 in Division 3. Brookfield Central started the game on an 11-2 run and led 21-10 on a basket by Cassie Fosdick.
But Edgewood held the Lancers scoreless over the last 4:31 of the first half and pulled to within 21-20 at the break.
Brookfield Central (2-2 overall) continued to hang around into the second half, taking a 30-29 lead on a pair of made free throws by Caroline Busch with 11:30 to play. The Lancers then found themselves in another offensive drought, which allowed the Crusaders to rattle off a 14-1 run to go up, 43-31, with 6:27 left.
After going scoreless in the first half, Edgewood star and Stanford commit Estella Moschkau got rolling in the second half to finish with 15 points. Katie Meriggioli led the Crusaders with 22 points.
"I was very happy with the way our girls came out and played against Edgewood," Liebl said. "We did some really great things in the first half, and Edgewood did a good job of adjusting to slow us down. Estella Moschkau is one of the best high school players I have ever seen play, so I was pleased with the way we were able to hold her below her scoring average."
Busch scored 16 points with five rebounds to pace the Lancers. Ellery Nordling added 15 points, while Anna Mortag scored 7 points with eight rebounds.
Brookfield Central flipped the script and became the team to take control in the second half in its game against Milwaukee Riverside. After leading, 27-24, at halftime, the Lancers outscored the Tigers, 34-13, over the final 18 minutes.
"I thought we played really well against Riverside," Liebl said. "They went on a little bit of a run at the end of the first half, but we made the necessary adjustments at halftime, and our girls did a fantastic job of sticking with our game plan."
Busch posted a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds on 5-of-6 shooting from the field. Mortag added 11 points, Kristin Gaulke scored 7 points and Nordling grabbed eight rebounds.
"We got a lot of really productive minutes from our bench," Liebl said. "Every girl on our roster made contributions in the game; it was a true team win. Caroline Busch had 23 points and 10 rebounds, but what has been even more impressive to me in the last week is how much she has stepped up as a leader after Claire Haynes' injury."
Brookfield Central will open up Greater Metro Conference play with a home game against Wauwatosa East (3-1 overall, 0-1 GMC) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9.