After cruising to a 74-14 victory over Milwaukee Pulaski/Milwaukee School of Arts in the regional semifinal game on Feb. 24, the Oak Creek Knights faced a young, West Allis Hale team. Despite trailing most of the game, the Huskies showed heart. But, in the end, the Knights were too much to overcome, as they knocked off the Huskies, 64-47, in a WIAA Division 1 regional final game.
“We’re very happy (to move on),” Oak Creek coach Steve Hluchnik said. “That Hale team is a dangerous team. You can look at their record, but they’re in every single game. They have some players.
“I was very worried about them. We got up, and they just kept cutting back (the lead). Very happy to get out of here with a win tonight.”
West Allis Hale had a 5-3 lead at the 15:01 mark in the first half. But, that was the last time the Huskies would lead, as they played catchup against the Knights.
“Oak Creek is one of the best around,” Hale coach George Sotiros said. “We knew if that gap got a little too big that we’d be chasing, and that’s what was happening.
“We had good looks in the first half to keep it tight. Once you get down double digits, you have to do some things that we aren’t used to. Credit to them. That’s why they are the best. We battled it out.”
With the win, the No. 2-seeded Knights (20-4) advanced to the Division 1 sectional semifinal and face No. 3-seeded Brookfield Central (16-8) on March 2 at Milwaukee South. Oak Creek and Brookfield Central squared off in the regular-season, with the Knights claiming a 60-47 victory on Dec. 20.
“They are a dangerous team,” said Hluchnik about Brookfield Central. “It will be a very good game. We will be prepared, and I know they will be as well. It will be a tough matchup.”
A back-and-forth game early, Oak Creek used a 7-0 scoring run over a 2 1/2-minute stretch that lasted until the 4:08 mark to take a 20-11 lead over Hale in the first half.
The Knights shot 62 percent from 3-point range in the opening half, knocking down six 3-pointers, compared to just one for the Huskies.
“Three-point shooting was definitely a big difference,” Hluchnik said. “I hope we don’t live and die by the three (moving forward). It was the difference tonight.”
Down 35-20 at halftime, West Allis Hale used a 7-0 run to cut Oak Creek’s lead to 8 points with 10:24 remaining in the game. Following an Oak Creek timeout, the Knights responded with a 14-3 scoring run of their own to jump out to a 19-point lead with 7:11 left.
“I’m very proud with how they reacted,” Hluchnik said. “You get those young teams and they struggle. Every time we needed a big bucket, someone answered with a big bucket to keep them at bay.”
The Huskies continued to fight and got the score within 10 points with 3:10 remaining, in large part tthanks to three 3-point shots by Zoe Burczyk in less than a 2-minute span. But, the deficit was too big to overcome.
Burczyk finished the game with a team-high 19 points
“Zoe (Burczyk) has been fantastic all year,” Sotiros said. “She hit shots. She’s tough. It’s just we needed some others to get shots to fall, and you can’t win with one person. Kids battled all year. We will be back. We’re young.”
Even though Hale’s season ended earlier than it hoped, Sotiros was proud his team surpassed last season’s win total of 10. It was the fifth straight year the Huskies (11-13) increased their win total.
“Every game our season has been competitive,” Sotiros said. “If I remove myself as a coach, they’ve been fun games. We talk about six possessions and we’d be 16-6. It’s a credit to the kids, even the seniors who started the process five years ago. You have to grow incrementally, and we’ve done that. We’re proud of them.”
Oak Creek’s Lea Finn finished with a game-high 20 points and eight rebounds.
“She was one that always seemed to be in the right spot in transitions,” Hluchnik said. “She knocked down a couple big threes. She came up with some big baskets for us.”