Franklin girls seize advantage of injury to Oak Creek's Kokta in sectional semifinal
Sabers beat Knights for first time this season
When opportunity presents itself, seize it.
The Franklin girls basketball team did just March 7 in a WIAA sectional semifinal at Greenfield. Because when Oak Creek senior point guard Morgan Kokta went down with a wrist injury early in the fourth quarter, that opened the door for the Sabers as they rallied from an 11-point deficit for a stunning 58-53 victory.
"We knew we had an opportunity and we did take advantage of it," Sabers' coach Tony Kathrens said. "Our edict was allow the moment to be real. Do not predict the future. Just stay with it. Then Morgan went down and we took advantage of it."
The victory was the first in three tries for the Sabers over their archrival this season and advanced Franklin (21-4 overall) to a WIAA sectional final against Milwaukee Riverside Saturday, which they lost (see separate story).
Kotka goes down
It was a numbing turn of events for Oak Creek coach Steve Hluchnik, whose team had entered the match with a 23-game winning streak and was second-ranked in the state.
He was most disturbed by his team's reaction when Kokta went down in a battle for a rebound at the 7:48 mark of the fourth quarter with the Knights holding a 46-38 lead. She would not return to the game and was seen leaving the court with an ice bag on her wrist.
Initially things were fine, as a basket by guard Katie Finn and a free throw by Jenna Santi gave Oak Creek its largest lead of the night at 49-38 with 7:20 to go, but it would be all downhill after that point for the Knights. They committed eight turnovers in the period without Kokta in the lineup and got outscored the rest of the way, 20-4.
"We're up about 10 with seven minutes to go, and we lose Morgan and then it becomes a Chinese fire drill," Hluchnik said. "Everybody can talk all they like about all our division 1 players and their talent, but if you don't have a floor leader on the court, this is what happens. You don't have a point guard, you don't go anywhere."
The rally started with a Franklin basket by the Sabers' All-State candidate Cassidy Mihalko. Shortly thereafter, freshman forward and emerging Sabers star Carly Graverson drained a 3-pointer to make it 49-43 with 6:37 left.
Mihalko would finish with 20 points and Graverson 23.
It would stay that way for another two minutes. In the interim, Knights star forward Tamya Sims came back into the game after a long hiatus with foul trouble. She played the last 4-plus minutes with four fouls.
Graverson and the Sabers kept working hard. In a packed and extremely noisy Greenfield field house, Graverson knocked down two free throws with 4:28 left to make it 49-45 Oak Creek.
After still another Knights turnover, Graverson just about blew the lid off the joint with a putback of her own miss and a foul that ended in a 3-point play. It was 49-48 Knights with 4:01 left.
"I have to admit, I was little nervous, but I was working with a lot of confidence," Graverson said. "It was so intense down there at the end (on the floor) that it was hard to hear the coaches' calls sometimes."
Tense final minutes
Knights junior forward Stephanie Kostowicz calmed things down a little bit with a baseline jumper at the 3:12 mark to make it 51-48, Oak Creek, but then Sabers junior forward Morgan McCuen hit a shot in the lane to cut the margin to one again at the 2:51 mark.
It seemed like Oak Creek was settled down again when Kostowicz hit a putback off a steal by Sims with 2:30 to go to make it 53-50, but then Graverson, whom Kathrens said earlier this year would be the "next great Franklin player," seized the moment and drained an in-rhythm trey from the right wing to tie the score at 53-all with 2:11 left.
At that moment, one could almost feel the floor move with the noise.
It got even louder as, after another Oak Creek turnover, McCuen put Franklin up for the first time since 13-12 in the first quarter with a strong drive to the basket at the 1:14 mark.
The Knights set up a good play after a timeout, but an attempted Sims to Kostowicz connection went out of bounds.
A short time later, McCuen put the Sabers in the driver's seat for good with another drive to the basket at the 50-second mark that made it 57-53 Franklin.
She all but clinched it with a free throw a few seconds later. After that, all that remained for the Sabers was to celebrate a remarkable victory.
A sweet victory for Franklin
For Mihalko, the second-leading scorer in Franklin history, it was sweet retribution.
"I couldn't stand the idea of losing three times (to Oak Creek in a season)," she said. "We had something similar like this happen to us last year, so we used that as motivation. It's just hard to beat a team three times, so we just tried to go out there with confidence."
"We just had to stay in the moment," Kathrens said. "All year long, I never felt that this team was out of a game."
For Hluchnik, whose team was led by Finn with 17, Kostowicz with 15 and Sims with nine, it was another case of sectional frustration. The Knights have just had problems getting out of the second level of the playoffs in recent years, be it semifinals or finals.
"Give credit to Franklin. The Graverson kid stepped up, the McCuen kid stepped up, but no one really stepped up in the fourth quarter for us," he said. "We lost Morgan and then all hell broke loose."
Kathrens, whose team will seek its first state tournament berth since 2007 Saturday, didn't know who would step up, but was very proud of the 5-9 freshman Graverson.
"When we lost (post) Montana Mack for the season (in a pre-campaign injury) we were out a post," he said, "but lo and behold, fate brought forward a freshman for us to get the job done."
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