OREGON — Big game, big goal, big player, big victory.
Everything about the Monroe girls basketball team came up super-sized in the face of a valiant challenge from Milton during Saturday’s WIAA Division 2 sectional final at Oregon High School.
Especially Sydney Hilliard.
The result was a 62-51 victory that gave the Cheesemakers (20-6) a third consecutive trip to the state tournament at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon.
Hilliard, a 6-foot senior guard who will play at the University of Wisconsin next season, scored seven points during Monroe’s 8-0 run over the first 3 minutes, 41 seconds of the second half.
When it was over, the Cheesemakers’ tenuous seven-point halftime lead had become a comfortable 38-23 margin. Despite plenty of effort, Milton (11-14) was unable to cut its deficit to single digits the rest of the way.
Hilliard — whose hefty tool box includes ball-handling, playmaking, outside shooting and creating offense on the drive — finished with 31 points, 17 of them coming after halftime.
All she was doing, she said afterward, was her job.
“It was just more natural than anything,” Hilliard said of her frequent scoring streaks. “It was just the time to be more aggressive.”
Hilliard did more than score. Her ability to create allowed Megan Benzschawel, a 6-foot sophomore forward, to find success on the inside. Benzschawel finished with 18 points, making seven of eight free throws.
“Sydney is a special player,” Monroe coach Sam Mathiason said. “Both Sydney and Emily had a look in their eye going out for this game. They’re two special players.”
Although coach Stacy Skemp’s Red Hawks gave Monroe its toughest battle among the teams’ three meetings this season, the end result was the same. Monroe won the teams’ Badger South Conference meetings by scores of 71-46 and 68-45.
“Coming in, we were all very determined,” Skemp said. “After (Thursday’s sectional semifinal victory over Southern Lakes Conference champion Waterford), we started believing.”
From the start, Milton’s 6-foot senior forward, Chloe Buescher, refused to back down. The future UW-Whitewater volleyball player worked the inside to score eight of her team’s first 11 points and finished with 24.
“Coach told me once I got the ball, to shoot it,” Buescher said. “I know this could be our last game, and I wanted to make sure the seniors set a legacy for hard work.”
Milton never led after 2-0 and was never tied after 14-13, though a missed free throw midway through the half allowed Monroe to keep a 14-13 lead. Buescher made a free throw in the final minute of the half to cut the margin to seven before Hilliard caught fire to open the second.
“We didn’t have the best start (to the second half),” Buescher said. “It’s hard to overcome that when you’re already down.
Next for Monroe is today’s seeding meeting, after which the Cheesemakers will learn their opponent for Friday’s semifinal (1:35 or 3:15 p.m.)
Although it’ll be the Cheesemakers’ third annual trip to the Resch Center, Mathiason said it’ll all feel like new on Friday.
“It’s hard enough, getting in one time,” the coach said. “For this crew to get in, now for the third time, with all the things that could have gone wrong, that’s really something.”
Monroe 30 32 — 62
Milton 23 28 — 51
MONROE — M. Benzschawel 5 7-8 18, Mathiason 0, Updike 1 0-0 2, Hilliard 12 5-9 31, Tostrud 3 2-2 9, E. Benzschawel 1 0-0 2. Totals 22 14-19 62.
MILTON — Buescher 11 2-6 24, Hanke 2 0-0 4, Campion 1 4-4 6, Falk 1 2-2 5, Mack-Honold 1 4-6 6, Quade 3 0-1 6. Totals 19 12-19 51.
3-point goals — MON 4 (M. Benzschawel 1, Hilliard 2, Tostrud 1), MIL 1 (Falk 1). Total fouls — MON 17, MIL 15. Fouled out — Mathiason, Campion.