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Warriors send Miners home
Black Hawk’s Hailey Wellnitz scores through contact from Shullsburg’s Hailey Duerst in a WIAA Division 5 playoff game on Feb. 20. The Warriors beat the Miners 45-37. - photo by Natalie Dillon

SOUTH WAYNE — It had been 85 days since the Warriors and Miners last met, but the results were much the same as 7-seed Black Hawk defeated 10-seed Shullsburg 45-37 in a WIAA Division 5 regional quarterfinal game on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

Entering the contest, Black Hawk had won 10 of its last 15 games. Shullsburg was on a similar streak, winning three of its last four.

“We’ve changed up our offense many times,” Black Hawk head coach Steve Herbst said of his team’s secret to success. “They had a lot of wins at the end of the year. They had probably figured themselves out, too. We knew it was going to be a battle — it doesn’t matter what seed you are.”

Although Kendra Haldiman put the Warriors on the board in their first possession, the Miners took the lead with a 6-0 run.

Hailey Duerst went 2-for-2 from the free-throw line. Shullsburg then scored four points with offensive rebounds from Taylor Russell and Duerst. 

Maddy Place knotted the game at six with a 3-pointer, and teammates Mya Milz and Hailey Wellnitz followed suit with threes of their own for a 12-6 advantage.

The Warriors then went cold for nearly six minutes, as the Miners chipped away at the lead.

Following a free throw from Courtney Thyen, Shullsburg enforced a 2-3 zone. Olivia Brown stole a lob pass intended for Haldiman. The Miner possession ended in a 3-pointer for Camden Russell, putting Shullsburg within one possession of Black Hawk.

On their next trip down the court, the Warriors coughed up the ball again. Although Camden Russell missed her 3-point attempt this time, Herbst called a timeout for his team to regroup.

Shullsburg nearly tied the game — Duerst’s free-throw made it a 12-11 contest — when Veronica Cheatham ended Black Hawk’s draught. She got the ball at the short corner and drove baseline for a 14-11 lead. 

The bucket sparked a 17-1 run that carried into the locker room, as Shullsburg had its own cold spell.

“We just really pushed through there,” Wellnitz said of the momentum shift. “We just said, ‘We aren’t going home.’”

Wellnitz added on, scoring through two Miner defenders. Moments later, Black Hawk broke Shullsburg’s full-court press, resulting in two more for Wellnitz. She completed the 3-point play with a free throw.

The Warriors reached bonus with just under four minutes left in the first half, where Wellnitz made one of two shots. She then took a charge from Camden Russell, giving her team possession. On the opposite end of the floor, Place cashed in with a 3-pointer in the corner. The shot put Black Hawk ahead by double digits, 23-11.

Rebounding led to more points for the Warriors. Cheatham missed a 3-point attempt in the corner but grabbed her own rebound. Her jumper missed the mark, but Milz was there on the block for a rebound. Milz also missed, but Reese Anderson grabbed the board and put it back for two.

After allowing three offensive boards and two points, Shullsburg head coach Nathan Russell called his second timeout in a minute span.

The Warriors still boxed out the Miners for better rebounding position, resulting in a trip to the line for Cheatham, who was fouled on a defensive rebound. She was 2-for-2 at the line for a 29-11 lead.

Shullsburg’s Isabelle Wiegel ended the half with a free throw, the Miners’ first points in nearly seven minutes. Her team had four previous attempts at the charity stripe in the final minutes of the frame, but the Miners missed them all.

“We got a big lead at halftime, and I think we got comfortable,” Herbst said. “I knew Shullsburg wasn’t going to give up. I have to give a lot of credit to them because they played lights out in the second half on defense.”

Shullsburg cut into Black Hawk’s lead, getting within ten points on multiple occasions. Camden Russell’s 3-pointer on a kickout from Taylor Russell made it a 32-22 game. The Miners then broke the Warriors’ full-court press, resulting in a bucket for Taylor Russell and a 36-26 deficit.

Black Hawk’s lead fell to single digits, 41-33, on an old-fashioned 3-point play from Taylor Russell, but time was running out.

With just over two minutes left and fouls to give, Shullsburg began to foul to gain possession. 

“We’ve worked on situations like that in practice, and it helped a lot,” Haldiman said of avoiding turnovers with Shullsburg playing tight defense. “Last year, that pressure really bothered us. That was one thing we knew we had to work on this year.”

The Miners committed four fouls in a span of a minute before Wellnitz went to the line for bonus. Down the stretch, Wellnitz made four of her seven free-throw attempts to secure the 45-37 win.

“Our main thing was getting it into a shooter’s hands to get to the free-throw line and put them in,” Wellnitz said. “I just told myself, ‘I gotta put these in.’”

Wellnitz led the team with 13 points, going 6-for-10 from the charity stripe with nine rebounds. All of Place and Milz’s points came from beyond the arc, as the pair made five 3-pointers. Camden Russell and Taylor Russell scored 11 points each.

With the win, Black Hawk ensures at least a .500 season. The mark is a step in the right direction after a 9-15 record last year and a first-round loss.

“Not everyone was expecting us to be a .500 team or anywhere close,” Herbst said. “I have to give the girls a lot of credit for figuring out a new system three different times this year. They put in a lot of hard work. They didn’t give up.”