Franklin girls honor Rathke by winning own tourney for first time
Sabers impressive in three-game sweep
Franklin - The words of the day for Franklin girls basketball coach Tony Kathrens were really the only ones that could be chosen just before the Sabers won the Rathke Memorial Tournament for the first time in its five-year history Saturday.
"Coach told us it was 'Christine (Rathke),' " said senior forward and event MVP Cassidy Mihalko. "And it means a lot. She played here and put so much heart and effort into the program. Winning it like this means it all."
Rathke, the school's all-time leading scorer (1,515 points), all-around best player and symbol of the program's powerful continuing surge from the mid-1990s on, had the tourney named in her honor after she died tragically about six years ago.
"And I see the Rathke family over there (in the far stands)," said Kathrens as he was giving out awards after Franklin won a 68-57 decision over Middleton. "I continue to be inspired by their presence."
Facing serious competition
That inspiration carried the Sabers through the powerful three-day grind of the tournament. They had to beat Oshkosh Lourdes on Dec. 27 and Arrowhead on Friday in order to meet Middleton on Saturday.
Middleton (5-4) won the Rathke in its first year in 2008 and was state runner-up in 2011.
The Sabers (7-2) fell behind by 12 midway through the first half before putting on a rally that cut the margin to 28-26 at the break. Kathrens also had Franklin swap its 1-3-1 defense for a more aggressive man set, which he found sped up the game, much to the Sabers players' delight.
"We really fought back," he said, "and switching from a zone to man really helped. They were having a great deal of success getting around us using skip passes, but we gained more energy going to a man. We were able to impose our will."
They turned the halftime deficit into a 47-42 advantage by the end of the third period.
The Sabers clung to a lead throughout the fourth, but not without some powerful resistance from the Cardinals. In the last three minutes Middleton was able to cut the lead down to six three times, the first time on two free throws from Shannon McCauley with 2 minutes, 14 seconds remaining.
A frenzy of events ensued, marked by some clutch plays that Rathke herself would have been proud of. After the Cardinals missed two free throws that could have cut the margin to four with 1:57 left, the Sabers turned the ball right back, only to have Middleton return the favor.
Franklin then rushed a shot and the Cardinals looked to push it forward, but Mihalko intercepted the pass on the far sideline. She got the ball to guard Nala Mudd, who was fouled and drained two charity tosses with 1:03 left to make it 61-53.
A quick bucket by the Cardinals got the margin back down to six with 52 seconds left, but then the Sabers ran an inbounds play from right in front of their bench as all-tournament team member Jenny Eickhorst hit Mihalko cutting down the lane to score what would prove to be the clinching lay-up with 42 seconds to go.
In the final seconds, Franklin would hit five of six free throws.
"We just went into the locker room at halftime and fired each other up," Eickhorst said. "We'd had an amazing day yesterday (beating Arrowhead), but we needed to step it up today."
Shaking off early loss
Kathrens said the Sabers are now freeing themselves from the memory of an early tough loss to area and conference rival Oak Creek. He said he simplified the offense, making it easier for the press-and-attack Sabers to get into a flow.
"We're just running the offense far more easily now," Mihalko said. "We drive and kick. We weren't hitting shots in the first half, but in the second, they started to drop."
Franklin would hit seven 3-pointers in the contest, including two each by Eickhorst and Katie Nord.
Mihalko led the Sabers with 20 points, including all seven of her free throw attempts (Franklin was a sound 17 of 22 from the line on the night) while Nord had 13, and Eickhorst and Mudd scored 11 each.
Middleton junior forward Liz McMahon led all scorers with 21.
Kathrens was happy to take the team trophy home for the first time. It is something Beaver Dam did in 2009, Pius XI in 2010 and Nicolet in 2011.
He was especially happy to do it for the Rathkes and for Christine's memory.
"I knew Christine and what she represented to this court, this school," he said. "She was everything that was good about Franklin basketball. That's why her name was our word today."
Franklin 60, Arrowhead 38: The score was only 24-22 at the half in favor of the Sabers in last Friday's semifinal, but then they outscored the Warhawks by a 36-16 count in the final two quarters to pull away for the easy win. Four players broke into double figures, including Mihalko and Eickhorst with 15 points apiece, Carly Graverson with 12 and Nord with 10.
Franklin 73, Oshkosh Lourdes 59: The Sabers withstood a 28-point effort by the Knights' Maddy Reed in order to earn this quarterfinal victory Dec. 27. They had a 37-25 lead at the break but Lourdes closed that to 52-45 by the end of the third. The Sabers outscored the Knights 21-14 in the final quarter for the win. Eickhorst (25 points) and Mihalko (24) were a devastating one-two punch for the Sabers. Eickhorst had six of Franklin's nine 3-pointers on the night.
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