Sophomore Haley Zylka has been there before. Thursday nightm she was there once again, sinking two free throws with 2.2 seconds left in the game and giving top-seeded Oak Creek a 53-51 victory over Brookfield East in a WIAA regional semifinal game at Brookfield Central.
With the Knights leading, 37-28 with 13 minutes, 11 seconds left in the game, not too many people figured the game would come down to the final seconds.
After an East turnover under the basket, Oak Creek’s Hailey Erdman hit Madison Hart with 1:12 remaining to give the Knights a 49-48 lead, and then Hart was fouled after a missed shot and sank both ends of a 1-and-1 with 1:05 left to play for a 51-48 lead.
The Spartans Mariah Miller, who finished with 16 points, 13 in the second half, then tossed up a desperation air ball, but the Knights turned the ball over, and East needed a 3-pointer to tie the game.
Senior Adriana Plavsic drilled one from deep on the right side to tie the game at 51-51 with 12.4 seconds left to play.
Oak Creek raced down court, and Zylka drove to the lane and was fouled by Miller, setting up the game-winning free throw.
“She’s probably our best free-throw shooter,” Knights coach Steve Hluchnik said. “She’s won us some games down the stretch already. If I had to pick one (to shoot a free throw), she would be it, believe it or not.”
Game of runs
Oak Creek jumped out to an 11-4 lead, as Erdman stood unguarded three feet past the 3-point and accounted for 9 points in that early run. But then East made its first run of the game, when senior Angela Pichler passed to junior Jen Wandt for a long 3-pointer, Miller hit two free throws and sophomore Molly DeValkenaere hit two free throws to make it 13-12.
But junior Jessica McIntosh scored on a drive, Hart hit a bucket and McIntosh stole the ball on a turnover and scored for a 19-12 lead.
The Spartans came back on a huge three by Pichler, a rebound basket by sophomore Lizzy Cagle, and then Miller passed to Cagle for a jumper, and it was 19-19 with 5:25 left in the half,
But then Oak Creek ran off a 7-0 run for a 26-19 lead, as Zylka scored on a drive and a 3-pointer and Hart hit two free throws.
The Knights opened the second half with a 9-5 run for a 37-28 lead, when East turned up the power, going on a 10-2 run.
Pichler scored on a drive, Miller hit two free throws, Pichler drove and scored on an amazing left-handed flip shot from the left side on a drive, DeValkenaere hit a free throw and Miller stole the ball, scored on a drive, was fouled and sank the free throw to cut it to 39-38.
Miller hit 1 of 2 free throws to give East its first lead of the night, 47-46, but Hart followed by doing the same, and Miller also went 1 of 2 again for a 48-47 lead with 2:16 left in the game. It was the Spartans last lead of the season.
East coach Matt Goodman was disappointed that his team couldn't hold the lead.
“When we got the lead, I thought we were over the hump, but we had two free throws and only make one," he said. "Then we get a stop, but then we turned the ball over. These girls (Oak Creek) attack. One mistake on the screen, one little turn of the head, they went right around us and scored (Hart’s basket for a 49-48 lead) and put them back up.”
Goodman knew his team had to play good defense against a team like Oak Creek.
“We knew we weren’t going to be able to turn them over a lot, so when we did, we wanted to make it hurt a lot, and we did.”
Hluchnik talked about the runs.
“I thought when we got it to 9, we could get it to 12, but then they would make a run,” Hluchnik said. “Then they came back and made that three (Plavsic) and we said, ‘no threes.’ But then we get our little sophomore on the line.
“Luckily we made one more play than they did tonight.”
Erdman led all scorers with 19 points, Hart had 18 and Miller 16 and Pichler 10.
Oak Creek will now face Divine Savior Holy Angels at 1 p.m. at West Allis Central with a state berth on the line.