CUDAHY — While it might bit of a stretch to suggest Erina Weiss was obsessed with Caroline Strande this week, it’s also not far from the truth.
Weiss, a 5-foot-11 senior forward for the Brookfield Academy High School girls basketball team, is the Blue Knights’ defensive stopper. She was assigned to Strande in Thursday night’s WIAA Division 4 sectional semifinal and she did about as good of a job as one can imagine.
With Weiss and help defenders frustrating Strande much of the night, Brookfield Academy ended Racine Lutheran’s dream season with a 54-47 victory. It was the first loss of the season for Lutheran (24-1), which finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in Division 4 in the Associated Press state poll.
“Whoever we’re playing, we look at who’s the best player on that team and we put Erina on her every time,” Brookfield Academy coach Amanda Schnell said. “That’s always our go-to game plan and Erina never lets us down.”
Strande, the fifth-leading scorer in state history, finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists in her final high school game. But she consistently had difficulty penetrating and working loose for open shots and did not make a 3-point basket after entering the game with 55 this season.
“I gave it 100% and I knew she was going to make shots, so I just tried to get past it when she made them and keep going,” said Weiss, who led Brookfield Academy in scoring with 16 points. “My teammates helped me out on help defense and it was really a team effort to guard her.”
Schnell, Brookfield Academy’s 27-year-old second-year coach, knew Weiss was going to put in a supreme effort against Strande, who finished her career with 2,539 points. And she provided her defensive specialist with plenty of film to study.
“We had a lot of film on them,” said Schnell, whose team plays Mishicot Saturday for the sectional championship. “We got film on them even before we knew we were playing them tonight because we knew there was a chance we were going to play them, so we’ve been mentally preparing for months.
“We knew No. 21 (Strande) and No. 25 (Morgann Gardner) were their scorers — especially No. 21. As long as we kept No. 21 to half her average, we knew the other players would have to step up and score.”
What might have been most agonizing for Lutheran were the numerous shots they missed, with several of the misses from inside rolling off the rim. That frustration carried over to the free-throw line, where the Crusaders went just 8 for 17.
Strande was particularly upset with herself after the game after she went 3 for 8 from the line. All of her free-throw attempts came in the final 3 minutes, 33 seconds of the game and she missed the front end of the bonus twice.
Gardner had 12 points and 12 rebounds, but no other Lutheran player scored more than seven points.
Afterward, Lutheran coach Steve Shaffer partially attributed the stunning loss to not being able to get into a comfort zone mentally.
“I think we were a little amped up getting this far,” he said. “This is the furthest any team in our history has gotten. When you want something really bad, which is getting to state, you get all amped up and, sometimes, you have to find that zone.
“I talked to the team about how, in football, you want to be all amped up you want to go smash somebody. In baseball, you’ve got to be as relaxed as you can be. And in this sport, you’ve got to find that middle ground.
“At times tonight, I thought we were so amped up that we looked like a football team out there. We had how many shots under the basket that just would not fall? There was like a lid on the rim. A lot of that, I think, was we were amped up.”
Lutheran took a 22-21 lead into the second half and the game remained back and fourth until about the 10-minute mark, when Strande made a baseline shot to give the Crusaders a 33-32 lead.
But the Blue Knights (20-3) then went on a 12-0 run, with all their baskets coming inside. Lutheran chipped back from that 44-33 deficit to pull to within 48-46, but missed an opportunity to tie the score when Strande missed two free throws with 58 seconds left.
Brookfield Academy made six free throws after that to put the game away.
Afterward, a devastated Strande finally emerged from Lutheran’s locker room after most of her teammates already had. Wearing a maroon University of Minnesota sweatshirt — she will be playing for the Golden Gophers next season — she was hugged by several fans and teammates.
“I don’t even know what to say right now,” she said after composing herself.
When asked about Brookfield Academy, Strande said, “They had a great strategy coming into the game. Everyone got back on defense to stop our transition game. Their rebounding was great (unofficially, Brookfield Academy outrebounded Lutheran 36-29). And shots just weren’t falling for us.”
Shaffer credited the Blue Knights’ defense, which started with Weiss.
“No. 24 (Weiss) did a great job, but I always look at it as a team defense,” he said. “And it seemed like every time Caroline got by No. 24, another kid was there and then another kid. Their weakside rotation and pinching gaps and getting into gaps to stop dribble penetration and keeping (Strande) from going to the rim and having her pull up all night was exactly what they needed to do.
“I give credit to their entire team on the defensive end, not just No. 24. She played great — don’t get me wrong. But they had a great team defensive night tonight.”