On a night highlighted by two standout individual performances, it was Whitnall junior Ashley Markowiak whose star shined just a little bit brighter.
The eighth-seeded Falcons girls basketball team topped the visiting ninth-seeded Greendale, 60-52, in the opening round of the WIAA regional March 6. Markowiak posted a career-best 34 points and led a furious fourth-quarter run that extended the Falcons’ season.
The Woodland Conference, Black Division foes split contests earlier this season, with Greendale taking the last game on Jan. 27, 54-50.
“We know Greendale’s tough,” Falcons head coach Keith Larson said. “It was tough last time we saw them, but Ashley Markowiak put together a fantastic game. That might be a program high. We have confidence in all the girls. She was great, but we’ve got a lot of role players who have been asked to take on different roles, and they’ve responded. I thought Jackie Gruszka gave us some great minutes.”
Despite scoring more than half her team’s points, Markowiak said it was a team effort that rallied the Falcons in the final minutes.
“We realized at the end that this could be the last game of our season,” Markowiak said. “Not just me, but the entire team. Up until that point, I don’t think we really realized it. We pushed the ball, just got more aggressive and that made the difference.”
After Greendale took an early 4-2 lead, the Panthers led a close game the entire night until the 6:54 mark in the final quarter, when Whitnall grabbed a 42-41 advantage. The Falcons never looked back, as their lead grew to 10 points and Greendale was outscored 25-13 in the fourth quarter.
“That’s kind of been the story of our season,” Panthers head coach Andrew Schroeder said. “We have not been able to finish games, there’s an inability to close, and there’s inconsistency. It was an up-and-down game in what’s been an up-and-down season.”
However, one consistent mark for Greendale has been 5-foot-11 junior Taylor DeLong, who posted 27 points and shot 7-of-8 from the free-throw line while giving Greendale an advantage in the post.
“She’s strong inside,” Larson said. “She’s a lefthander, which throws defenders off a little bit, and she’s a good shooter, too. And when you have a player like that, it creates opportunities for everyone else. Give them a lot of credit, because they shook things up and made it tough for us to get going.”
Whitnall (12-11) moves on to face undefeated top seed New Berlin Eisenhower (22-0), another Woodland-Black Conference opponent, on Friday. Greendale finishes the season 7-17.
For Greendale, sophomore guard Emily Perszyk added eight points, while junior Olivia Surita and sophomore Taite Kurska chipped in with six each.
“We have a young team,” Schroeder said. “I’m losing two seniors, so I’m bringing back almost an entire team and that helps. Just the experience that they’re going to gain by having this type of season and playing together, it will help us out a lot.”
Junior Lizzy Menden added nine points for Whitnall and Shulta, a junior, scored six. The Falcons will need another all-around effort to challenge Eisenhower, which has been ranked second in the state most of the season.
“We know Eisenhower and they know us,” Larson said. “I don’t need to tell you they’re a very good team. We’re just going to go out and play.”
Markowiak said the Falcons will have to contain Eisenhower senior guard Nicole Bauman, who’s averaging 17 points per game this season.
“We have to watch out for her and play well as a team,” Markowiak said.
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