MIDDLETON — Whenever the Stoughton girls basketball team made a run Thursday night, Monroe junior guard Sydney Hilliard delivered a response.
Hilliard scored a game-high 26 points, including 15 in the second half, and led the top-seeded Cheesemakers to a 64-45 victory over the second-seeded Vikings in a WIAA Division 2 girls basketball sectional semifinal.
“We knew they would come in with the best they have and we knew we’d have to come out with some fire,” said Hilliard, who scored the game’s first four points when Monroe took a 7-0 lead. “We had that nice run at the beginning of the game and then we finished strong in the second half.”
Monroe advanced to play top-seeded Jefferson in a sectional final at 4 p.m. Saturday at Sun Prairie.
Badger South Conference champion Monroe (23-2), ranked fourth in Division 2 in the final Associated Press poll, improved to 3-0 this season against Stoughton (20-5), the Badger South runner-up.
“Obviously, we knew we had a tall task tonight,” Stoughton coach Brad Pickett said. “They are a very good team. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are playing next weekend (at the state tournament).”
The Cheesemakers had four players score in double figures in all three victories against their rival.
Junior guard Emily Benzschawel and senior forward Sydney Mathiason had 11 and 10 points, respectively, while freshman forward Megan Benzschawel added 11 points and eight rebounds off the bench in Monroe’s 10th straight win.
“We knew it would be that third Badger Conference game with each other and had a pretty good idea that it gets to be that grinder,” Monroe coach Sam Mathiason said. “I’m proud of the way our kids had that toughness down the stretch to be able to finish it out. (The Vikings) are good and they compete really hard.”
Junior Emma Kissling made three 3-pointers and led seventh-ranked Stoughton with 13 points. Senior Cassidy Bach added 12 points, while senior Paige Halverson made three 3-pointers and had 10 points.
Halverson’s 3-pointer pulled Stoughton within 42-38 with 6:03 left, but Monroe responded with six straight points. Megan Benzschawel scored on a drive, Hilliard scored off a steal and layup and Hilliard had another steal and fed Megan Benzschawel for a basket.
“We focused on once we got a steal or a rebound, really just pushing up the floor, because that’s when we get easy ones and get those ‘and ones,’ ” Hilliard said.
Stoughton chipped away again and trailed 48-43 when Bach sank a 3-pointer with 3:22 left. The Cheesemakers then scored 16 consecutive points, including seven by Hilliard.
“She’s just really good,” Sam Mathiason said. “She can make lots of plays and she’s really good at finishing. She has the benefit of some other teammates that are pretty good and you have to respect.”
The 16-0 run started with Hilliard’s three-point play that put Monroe up 51-43 with 2:45 left and drew protests from the Stoughton bench, which eventually led to two technicals in the final 26.6 seconds. Monroe was 11-for-12 from the free throw line in the final 2:03.
Last year, Monroe eliminated Stoughton in a sectional semifinal en route to advancing to the Division 2 state semifinals.
“You get to this point and you are probably playing someone pretty good no matter what sectional you are in,” Pickett said. “That’s how it’s going to happen. Obviously, the last two years we’ve run into these guys. We were right there tonight.”
Now Monroe is one win away from a return trip to state.
“I’m blessed,” Hilliard said. “I have a great team, a great coaching staff and an amazing fan base to cheer us on and give us energy. I’m thankful.”
Stoughton 21 24 — 45
Monroe 29 35 — 64
STOUGHTON — Halverson 3 1-2 10, Bach 4 2-4 12, Kissling 5 0-0 13, Trieloff 4 1-2 9, Baker 0 1-2 1. Totals 16 5-11 45.
MONROE — E. Benzschawel 3 4-4 11, Hilliard 8 10-13 26, S. Mathiason 2 4-6 10, M. Benzschawel 4 3-6 11, Meier 1 0-0 2, Tostrud 1 0-0 2, Mathiason 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 21-29 64.
3-point goals — S 8 (Halverson 3, Bach 2, Kissling 3), M 3 (E. Benzschawel 1, S. Mathiason 2). Total fouls — M 12, S 21. Fouled out — Baker. Technical fouls – Meier (Monroe), Stoughton head coach Pickett, Stoughton bench.