It didn't matter how it happened or the opponent it came against.
Brookfield Central's girls basketball team just needed a victory, and thanks to big defensive plays from Leah Swenson, Anna Mortag and Amanda Miller, the Lancers earned the win they so badly needed.
Shortly after making a crucial block on defense, Swenson hit a pair of free throws with 13.4 seconds left that proved the difference in a 51-49 victory over Menomonee Falls on Dec. 23 that snapped a three-game losing streak for Brookfield Central.
"We desperately needed a win," Brookfield Central coach Mallory Liebl said. "Our girls are working hard. They continue to come in and work hard every day, but to be able to finish a game like that is huge, regardless of the opponent or what has happened in the first 36 minutes of the game. Just to be able to finish a game is really important and a good piece to build off of moving forward.
"We just really needed to get a win and get back to some positive feelings."
The Lancers turned a 25-20 halftime lead into a 32-24 advantage after Kailey Ticcioni connected on a pair of free throws with 15:40 to play.
Karly Volz and Madison Grzesiak then hit 3-pointers to ignite Menomonee Falls on a 10-0 run that gave the Indians a 34-32 advantage with 11:45 left. Central grabbed the lead back at 40-38 but then went into an extended scoring drought with leading scorer Caroline Busch on the bench with four fouls.
Menomonee Falls took advantage and scored 7 straight points to lead 45-40 with 4:38 to play.
"We came out of halftime and did exactly what we asked," Falls coach Derek Woelffer said. "The girls battled and guarded and guarded. It was by far one of our best halves. Sam (Kruk) did a great job on Caroline, but with Sam faceguarding Caroline, everyone else had to step up. Some girls made some tough shots for them. That's what they needed to stick in it."
Busch steps in
Busch immediately made an impact upon checking back into the game, converting a 3-point play for Brookfield Central's first points in 4 minutes, 27 seconds. With the Lancers down 49-46, Brookfield Central started a stretch in which it won the game on the defensive end.
"We didn't panic and didn't rush to get her back in because we have to learn how to play without her at times because she will get into foul trouble, and there might be times that's way later in a game and we have to finish a game without her," Liebl said. "It is a good situation to be able to look back on and say we were OK without her. I was really proud of how our girls handled that. They didn't panic. A lot of girls stepped up."
After picking off a Grzesiak pass, Busch took the ball to the hoop and dished the ball to Mortag, who scored and was fouled with 1:47 left. She missed the free throw for the tie, however, leaving the Indians up, 49-48.
But Swenson swatted a shot attempt by Grzesiak on the other end and corralled the rebound. Swenson was fouled on a drive to the hoop with 34.7 seconds to play and missed the first but hit the second to tie the game at 49-49.
"I just went for it," Swenson said of the block. "I was hoping to get the ball. It was more of a reaction."
On Falls' ensuing possession, Mortag blocked Grzesiak inside, grabbed the rebound and got the ball to Swenson, who was fouled and hit two free throws to give Brookfield Central a 51-49 lead with 13.4 seconds to play.
Busch fouled Alyssa Marks with 5.5 seconds left, sending the Falls senior to the line with a chance to tie the game. She instead missed the front end of the bonus. Ellery Nordling grabbed the rebound for Brookfield Central but missed her two free-throw attempts with 3.4 seconds on the clock.
As Marissa Igunbor attempted to bring the ball up the floor for either a game-tying or game-winning shot attempt, Miller poked the ball away from behind to secure the win for the Lancers.
"The biggest thing we kept stressing in those timeouts was that it starts on the defensive end," Liebl said. "Get one stop at a time. Offensively, I thought we did a good job of being patient and not being so frantic. The last couple of games we lost our composure a little bit, and I thought tonight we did a good job keeping our composure, keeping our focus on one possession at a time. Some girls stepped up and had some big moments."
Mortag led the Lancers with 17 points. The 6-foot freshman also grabbed nine rebounds, blocked three shots and connected on three 3-pointers to carry the offense with Busch in foul trouble. After scoring 7 points in the first half, Busch didn't score her first points of the second half until her 3-point play with 4:12 left and finished with 12 points. Swenson added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The victory moved Brookfield Central to 3-5 overall and gave the Lancers their first Greater Metro win after they dropped their first two league games to Wauwatosa East and DSHA.
'This was a must-win for us," Swenson said. "We stressed all week that this was a game that we needed to win. It didn't matter that it was Falls. It could have been anyone. We needed a win."
Falls fell to 3-6 overall and 2-2 in the Greater Metro with the loss. The Indians have lost their last five games by a combined 14 points.
"We're right there," Woelffer said. "I told them that I don't think any team can blow us out because we are mentally tough. But we have to get over that hump at some point. That's the hardest part."
Central falls to Oak Creek
Brookfield Central fell, 60-47, to Oak Creek in a nonconference game on Dec. 20.
Oak Creek built a 32-23 advantage at halftime and didn't relent, shooting 47.8 percent (22-for-46) from the field and 10-for-11 from the free-throw line while knocking down six 3-point shots.
Busch led the Lancers with 14 points on 5-for-15 shooting, connecting on three triples. Swenson made all six of her free-throw attempts to finish with 8 points, and Mortag and Nordling each added 6 points.
Brookfield Central will travel to West Allis Hale to take on the Huskies at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 6, before hosting Sussex Hamilton at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10.