One explosive and prolonged run made a huge difference in Franklin’s WIAA Division 1 girls basketball sectional championship game against Milwaukee Riverside on Saturday afternoon.
The Sabers showed plenty of resilience and fight, but they could not overcome a 36-8 burst by the Tigers in the first half and eventually fell, 69-59, at West Allis Central High School.
Franklin, which was riding the emotional high of its semifinal victory over rival Oak Creek two days earlier, jumped out to a 13-4 advantage in the first quarter with the help of 3-pointers from Jenny Eickhorst, Cassidy Mihalko and Katie Nord.
Riverside, though, tallied the final seven points of the period to come within 13-11, then blitzed the Sabers with a 29-8 second quarter to go up 40-21 at the half.
“I think what you saw (in the second period) was their gifted athleticism take over,” Franklin head coach Tony Kathrens said. “They just took the game over, and kudos to them.”
The Sabers trimmed the margin to 7 points on two occasions in the fourth period but the Tigers held on to win.
Riverside, which was regarded as one of the favorites for the Division 1 crown back in November, improved to 22-4 and will meet Superior (23-3) on Friday in the state tournament at the Resch Center in Green Bay.
The Sabers ended a successful season at 21-5.
Franklin did everything right in the opening minutes, taking the fight to the Tigers and connecting on the trio of 3-pointers. When Morgan McCuen drove the lane for a short shot, the Sabers were up, 13-4.
Riverside, however, kept its poise and chipped away at the lead. A basket and free throw from Shaunte Tucker started the rally, and two free throws from Brionna Simond made it 13-11 after one period.
In the second quarter, the Tigers put on a display of quickness, athleticism and shooting prowess that showed why they are so highly regarded.
They connected on 13 of 21 from the floor (62 percent) while holding the Sabers to just two field goals in nine shots.
Riverside took the lead for good at 17-15 on a basket from Amani Wilborn, then Alana Johnson connected on a running jumpshot for a four-point edge.
The Tigers, behind 6 foot-5 inch center Breanna Lewis and 6-0 forward Aliyah Gipson, dominated the boards, leading to numerous second, third and even fourth opportunities. On one possession, after three offensive boards by the Tigers, Wilborn hit an inside shot for a 27-16 lead.
Riverside then turned to the outside game as Johnson and Jazlyn Drake netted 3-pointers late in the period.
When the quarter was over, Franklin was staring at a stunning 40-21 deficit.
One factor was Riverside’s height advantage with Lewis and Gipson working inside.
“We don’t have anybody at six feet, and they have a 6-5 post,” Kathrens said. “You can only play zone for so long before they begin to expose you, because a zone is really just a half-court defense, and they were running the break. Their quickness hurt us, and Wilborn and Johnson are players.”
Mihalko nailed a 3-pointer to start the second half and consecutive baskets from Carly Graverson and McCuen cut it to 44-32 midway through the third.
Mihalko later took a pass from Eickhorst for a 3-point play to make it 46-35, but then Johnson netted a pair of treys to build the lead back to 15 at 52-37.
Early in the fourth, a basket from Mihalko and back-to-back 3-pointers by Eickhorst and Nord brought Franklin within 56-49 with 4 minutes, 40 seconds still left.
“We got it to where we thought it was within reason,” Kathrens said, “and they kept hitting shots.”
Wilborn made a steal which led to a basket from Johnson, and Lewis took a lob inside to make it 61-51.
Wilborn found Tucker twice for baskets to build the lead to 65-51, but Franklin made one more charge, using 3-pointers from Nord and Taylor Schell to come within 66-59 with 38.4 seconds left.
Riverside, though, sealed it with free throws.
Kathrens was proud to see the big comeback, even though it fell short.
We lost big-time last year to Muskego (in a sectional semifinal), and we gave up in the first half,” he said. “You saw it on their faces. This year, there was no give-up in these girls. We cut the lead tremendously.”
Mihalko finished her brilliant career with 17 points, while emerging freshman star Graverson had 14, Nord 11 and Eickhorst eight.
For Riverside, Tucker scored 14 points, Johnson 13, Lewis 12 and Gipson and Wilborn each nine points. The Tigers’ bench racked up 19 points to Franklin’s three.
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