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This state championship appearance was a long time coming for the Martin Luther girls basketball team – heck, for the entire athletic department, which hadn’t earned a berth to a WIAA basketball state tournament in school history.

When the final seconds ticked off the Spartans’ 63-59 victory over Waupun on March 4, the eruption of cheers and tears at Waukesha South High School represented decades of anguish finally being relieved.

“This group has been making history all year,” said coach Corey Scheel, whose hiring as the girls basketball coach and athletic director last year coincided with the resurrection of Martin Luther’s boys and girls basketball programs this season. “And as I told some alumni who were here, we continue to play for those who came before us. We’re playing for the 2005 team (who advanced to the sectional final game and lost on a buzzer beater), we’re playing for the girls who went through the ups and downs with this program forever, and now we’re seeing this.”

What Martin Luther (25-1) fans are seeing in 2017 is an athletic roster that features size, speed, experienced seniors playing for their basketball lives and youngsters helping them reach the summit before they graduate.

It almost looked like the magical run would end as Waupun (20-6) took a 9-point lead early in the first half, overcoming Martin Luther’s zone with deep buckets. Freshman Peyton McGinnis, senior McKenna Yedinak and senior Danielle Hopp knocked down back-to-back-to-back threes in that stretch to help give the Warriors a 12-3 edge and 15-6 lead with 12 minutes, 27 seconds left in the first half.

The Spartans responded with a 15-7 run to tie the game at 22, capped off by a 3-point play by sophomore Bonnie Jensen with 6:02 left in the half.

“We clawed ourselves back in it and kept fight and fighting,” Scheel said. “We absorbed that first punch, they knocked us down, and we got back up. We never quit. This team has not quit all year.”

The Spartans took a 26-25 lead with 4:43 left to play in the first half, but Jensen earned her third foul on a controversial blocking call, and her fourth came with 7:18 left in the second half. With Jensen relegated to the bench for most of that time, Scheel called upon sophomore Emma Kallas off the bench, who poured in a team-high 18 points, including four points in the final 22 seconds of the first half on two free throws and a running jumper at the buzzer.

“Emma’s been our sixth man all year long,” Scheel says. “She played way above a sophomore tonight, and with Emma coming off the bench, they don’t expect that.”

Waupun gave the Spartans more trouble in the second half, regaining a 1-point lead at 8:48 when Hopp scored 6 of her 17 points on consecutive possessions to make the score 49-48. Junior Sydney Flier gave the Warriors another slim lead when she nailed two free throws at 5:48 to make the score 53-52. Flier would finish with 17 points, as well, while senior Maiah Domask led all scorers with 20.

But that would be the last time Waupun would lead. Senior Emily Hafemann scored eight of her 12 points in the second half, including three points in a final 10-6 run that put the Spartans on the bus to Green Bay.

“It means so much to us (seniors) because we’ve been playing together since fifth grade,” Hafemann said after the game as she clutched the sectional title plaque. “We started out as little freshmen on varsity, and we were .500, and now we’re here and couldn’t feel greater.”