JANESVILLE — A year ago after falling in a sectional final, Madison East girls basketball coach James Adams stood in the Janesville Craig gymnasium and expressed confidence the Purgolders would be back contending for a state tournament berth this season.
Madison East did indeed return in Saturday’s WIAA 1 sectional final at Janesville Craig. But the third-seeded Purgolders’ path to reach state for the first time since 1990 faced a significant roadblock: top-seeded Mukwonago, the top-ranked team in Division 1 in the final Associated Press poll.
The Purgolders, propelled by junior guard Shayla Moseberry’s torrid 3-point shooting in the first half and quick starts to both halves, had that coveted state berth in their sights. But the Indians rallied from a nine-point deficit with 15 minutes, 10 seconds remaining and then outscored the Purgolders 8-1 down the stretch for a 61-56 victory in the sectional title game.
With Mukwonago’s defense focused on Big Eight Conference Player of the Year Erin Howard and senior guard Justice Filip, the 5-foot-11 Moseberry sank five 3-pointers in leading East (19-7) to a 31-29 halftime lead. Moseberry scored 15 of her team-high 19 points in the first half, while Auburn commit Howard, despite foul trouble, contributed 12 of her 14 points in the second half.
“We had way too many turnovers, but it was a good game,” Howard said. “It came down to the wire, which is what we were expecting. It definitely wasn’t the outcome we wanted.”
Adams, who noted his team was hurt by turnovers in the final minutes, credited the Indians but said he didn’t believe Mukwonago was the top team in Division 1.
“It’s a good team — very sharp,” Adams said. “They do what they do and they do it well. I thought we had energy. We were ready and prepared. I believe we are a good team, a very, very good team. … Do I think they are the No. 1 team in the state? No, I do not and you can quote me.”
Junior forward Natalie Andersen, the Classic Eight Conference Co-Player of the Year with Hartland Arrowhead's Caitlyn Harper, had a game-high 28 points, scoring 14 points in each half, and junior guard Grace Beyer added 12 points for the Indians (24-2).
Andersen and Beyer made pivotal plays after Purgolders senior forward Tyla Hayes scored inside off a feed from the 6-2 Howard, giving East a 55-53 lead with 4:14 left. Andersen tied the game with a layup with 3:30 left, then scored underneath — giving Mukwonago a 57-55 lead with 1:57 to play.
East sophomore forward Nevaehia Boston made one of two free throws, cutting the deficit to 57-56 with 1:40 remaining. But Beyer sank two foul shots with 16.3 seconds left and then scored on a steal and layup with three seconds to play.
She scooped up a loose ball as the Purgolders tried to set up a potential game-tying 3-point attempt.
“(Andersen) has had a lot of huge games for us,” Mukwonago coach Rick Kolinske said. “She came through in big moments. She gave us exactly what we needed today, and Grace, as well. I had no worries about her free-throw shooting.”
In addition to Moseberry’s hot shooting, senior guard Aireyanna Conners hit two 3-pointers for East in the first half, which sank eight 3-pointers before halftime and two in the second half.
“(Moseberry) shot the ball with such confidence,” Adams said. “We shot the ball really well in the first half. In the second half, they made some adjustments.
“They did a good job on Justice and kept her from getting shots. They didn’t expect Shayla and Aireyanna to hit those open shots.”But like last year when Middleton ousted East in the sectional final, the Purgolders’ season ended one victory short of state.
“I’m proud of everyone on the team and what we did this year,” Howard said. “We got back to the sectional final and we knocked out Sun Prairie and some other teams. I’m thankful to be here, but it didn’t end the way we wanted it to.”
Mukwonago 29 32 — 61
Madison East 31 25 — 56
MUKWONAGO — Beyer 4 4-4 12, Koresch 0 0-0 0, Lopez 3 0-1 6, Cera 3 0-0 7, Andersen 11 4-5 28, Henning 3 2-4 8. Totals 24 10-14 61.
MADISON EAST — Filip 1 2-2 5, Jayla Conners 1 0-1 2, Bentley 0 2-2 2, Boston 1 1-2 3, Howard 6 0-0 14, Moseberry 7 0-0 19, Hayes 2 1-3 5, Aireyanna Conners 2 0-0 6. Totals 20 6-10 56.
3-point field goals — M 3 (Andersen 2, Cera 1); ME 10 (Moseberry 5, Howard 2, Aireyanna Conners 2, Filip). Total fouls — M 11; ME 17.