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Cheese commanding respect
Times photo: Mark Nesbitt Monroe senior forward Ashley Hermanson drives to the hoop during Fridays 52-34 victory over Milton. Hermanson had a game-high 14 points.
MONROE - When the Monroe girls basketball team finds its groove, it's like the perfect storm.

Monroe (17-0, 9-0 Badger South) went on a 26-0 first-half run and the Cheesemakers surged to a 52-34 win over Milton Friday night.

"It feels good to make a statement in this game," Monroe senior Gwen Sutter said. "We clamped down on defense. Not letting up the second chance opportunities helped a lot."

With the win, Monroe moved within one more conference win from clinching at least a share of the Badger South. The Cheesemakers now have a two-game lead on the Red Hawks with three conference games remaining. Monroe also is still in contention for an unbeaten season. However, that is not the main focus right now.

"We don't even talk about that," Monroe coach Kevin Keen said. "Conference championship is No. 1. Then we focus on the second season. Right now, we just want to try to get better."

The Cheesemakers trailed 6-0 midway through the first quarter, but went on a decisive 26-0 run that spanned into the second quarter. Monroe junior Chelsea Brice scored the Cheesemakers' first basket with 4 minutes, 22 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Cheesemakers clamped down on the Red Hawks and held them without a field goal or point for more than 10 minutes of game time.

"Defensive pressure and Jamie's just a presence in the lane," Keen said, in explaining the keys to the shut-down defense. "Once we got rolling, we got it going pretty well."

The spurt was highlighted by Sutter's 3-pointer and a drive and jumper by junior Kyleigh Sellnow. Monroe senior Ashley Hermanson, who scored a game-high 14 points, scored down low at the end of the first quarter to give the Cheesemakers a 14-6 lead.

"We knew they would come after us," Hermanson said. "We took it to them."

Sutter scored 12 points and senior Jamie Armstrong had eight points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.

"I think we knew we had to turn it on," Armstrong said. "They were going to fight for it and we had to fight harder. We have about seven people who can be the high scorer. That's a huge benefit to us."

The run snowballed into the second quarter when Brice made two pinpoint passes to Hermanson who scored down low to give the Cheesemakers an 18-6 lead with 6:11 left in the second quarter. Sutter hit her second 3-pointer and junior Kylee Ritschard came through with a steal and layup she was fouled on. She converted the three-point play at the free throw line to give the Cheesemakers a 26-6 lead with 3:36 to go in the period.

Milton senior Amber Davis hit a jumper with 1:48 left in the period to snap the Red Hawks' cold spell, but the Cheesemakers had built an insurmountable lead.

The Cheesemakers have three more conference games left.

"Anything can happen," Sutter said. "In the games coming up, we will try our best and finish out the season strong."

The Cheesemakers host Waunakee Monday and still have a non-conference showdown with Verona. The perfect season would be a big accomplishment, but the Cheesemakers are keeping each game in perspective.

"It would be nice to go undefeated for this year," Sutter said. "You learn from losing. I don't think it's the worst thing in the world. As long as we are learning."

Monroe is hosting a "Hoops for Haiti" fundraiser Saturday, Feb. 20 when the Cheesemakers have their Senior Night against Monona Grove. Several athletic teams and organizations at the high school are having bake sales, raffles and other fund-raisers. T-shirts will be on sale and businesses are being sought to donate $1 for each point the girls basketball team scores against the Silver Eagles.