Even Arike Ogunbowale admitted it was a rare time for a whistle.
"I really wasn't expecting them to call a foul to be honest, but I felt the touch," the standout Divine Savior Holy Angels girls basketball player said after she sank a pair of game-winning free throws Friday with 0.5 seconds to play, helping her team take a 52-50 victory. "Usually at points like that in the game, the refs don't call the foul."
Sussex Hamilton had found a way to frustrate the all-time leading scorer in DSHA history — and she's only midway through her junior season — with a newly-implemented triangle-and-two design that essentially featured two defenders on her all night. But with time winding down in a tie game, one that give the winner an edge in the Greater Metro Conference title chase, Ogunbowale took the ball and heaved up a shot from well beyond the 3-point line and got the call.
After missing the first free throw, Ogunbowale sank the final two, essentially sealing the game in controversial fashion.
"I'm not making a comment," Hamilton coach Bill Scasny said. "You guys saw the play, you can make your own judgment on that."
The Chargers had fouls to give before putting DSHA in the bonus, and it made sense that the Chargers would try to commit a foul once the ball got into Ogunbowale's hands on the last possession, shortly after Emily Kneer split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 50 with 13 seconds left.
"They were intentionally trying to foul Arike, and she happened to be taking the shot," DSHA coach Scott Witt said. "I think it was just a bad confluence of their strategy and the game situation, where Arike happened to be shooting there. I don't really want to talk about the officiating; it seemed like a pretty clear foul to me. Maybe the question to me was if it was on the shot or on the floor. But clearly, there was an intentional fouling strategy because they had fouls to give."
The call was naturally unpopular with the visiting Hamilton fan contingent, and it was particularly frustrating after the Chargers had led by as many as 10 points in the second half. The Chargers, who saw the end of their six-game winning streak, fell to 12-5 overall and one game back in the loss column to DSHA (14-3) in the league standings.
"We did not do a good job handling the trap," Scasny said. "We made a few costly turnovers, but that happens. We had some opportunities; we just didn't finish the plays. They made some big plays at the end. it was a good high-school game, and we'll leave it at that."
Before the game became a case study on the perceived unwritten rules of last-second foul calls, it was a competitive and nail-biting contest.
DSHA didn't lead until 4:10 remained in the game, and Hamilton could thank its defensive output for keeping Ogunbowale (23.6 points per game) in check. She had just 4 points at halftime and landed with 12.
"We just put that in on Wednesday," Scasny said of the unusual configuration. "We tried it out Wednesday and Thursday in practice and figured we'd give it a shot tonight. It was a two-day experiment, and it worked pretty well. We've improved a lot over the year. If you saw us in November and early December and then see us now, I think we're 100 percent better. The kids played hard tonight, and I thought they played a great game. A couple plays at the end didn't go our way."
It was similar to what happened a couple weeks ago in a boys game between New Berlin Eisenhower and Shorewood, when the latter squad held Ike standout Reed Timmer (averaging better than 30 points per game) to 2 points. Shorewood won the game by 10 points.
"I live in the Eisenhower district, and this strategy was used on Reed Timmer, so as a coaching staff, we kind of talked about what we would do if a team went triangle-and-two and put both of the man defenders on Arike," Witt said. "At least it was kind of a thought exercise that we had done before. We hadn't worked on it in practice, but we talked about some configurations and matchups we would get out there."
Taylor Drost responded by scoring 10 points in the first quarter for the Dashers, but Hamilton had its own offensive juggernaut in Molly Diehl, who scored the first 7 points of the game and finished with 17.
When Ogunbowale and Drost came off the floor, the Chargers returned to their full-court press and took a 10-point lead at halftime.
But though Hamilton led by a 45-38 count after three quarters, the Dashers took command in the fourth, starting the period on a 12-1 run to take a 50-46 lead with 1:05 to play. Taylor Klug (17 points), who had five of the team's nine 3-point baskets, hit a triple with 43 seconds to play, and Kneer tied the game at the line.
"I think there came a point where we became the aggressor and maybe they were playing a little bit not to lose," Witt said. "It's inevitable, it's high school basketball and so hard to maintain that edge. They did such a great job building the lead and then the momentum kind of turns and it feels like we're the ones quicker to the ball and making the plays. What a great high-school game."
Said Ogunbowale, "Our traps are really good when we're really going at them. They really know how to handle the ball; and we have to double them tight."
DSHA still has games remaining against Brookfield Central, a team that defeated the Dashers the first time around, and Brookfield East, an improving team that just defeated Central. Hamilton faces East on Friday and can very realistically still share the league title.
The game marked a return for Scasny to the crowded gymnasium at DSHA, where he oversaw the varsity girls program for 14 seasons.
"I coached a lot of great people and had outstanding young ladies who were at the game tonight," he said. "It's obviously differentb, but it was a good 14 years, and we've moved on."
Chargers top Tosa East
On Feb. 4, Hamilton took 49-28 win over Wauwatosa East. Tosa East leading scorer Katie Salmon (18.5 ppg) was held to 7 points. Klug finished with 19 points and 5 assists, and Diehl posted 14 points and 8 rebounds. Kneer came away with four steals.
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