ASHWAUBENON — Seniors Grace Grocholski and Braelyn Torres are the unquestioned one-two punch for Kettle Moraine. Quite possibly the best one-two combo in the state.
But it’s always been a question of who will step up and be Kettle Moraine’s third option on a night-to-night basis. On Friday, that third option came in the unlikeliest of sources.
Junior guard/forward Riley Haertle came off the bench after an injury to junior post Claire Vosburg to score 13 points, and the thirdseeded Lasers weathered an early storm from No. 2-seeded Hortonville to emerge with a 77-67 victory in a WIAA Division 1 state semifinal girls basketball game at the Resch Center.
"I told myself to have no fear and when I saw Claire go down, I realized that maybe I need to step up a little more," Haertle said. "I just pushed myself and I didn’t want to be afraid to make mistakes." The 5-foot-5 Haertle hadn’t scored more than four points in a game since the season opener back on Nov. 17, 2022 against Milwaukee Riverside, when she posted seven. She surpassed that total in the first half, alone, leading the Lasers (27-1) with 10 points before the break.
"It was tremendous," KM coach Todd Hansen said. "Our rotation’s a little bit different now because Claire can’t play and Riley came in and played the game of her life. That’s what good teams do. When someone has adversity, someone else steps to the forefront and Riley did that today. I’m just so proud of her."
Vosburg appeared to injure her lower leg with 15 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first half and was replaced by sophomore forward Keegan Lodes, who finished with eight points of her own. Vosburg wouldn’t return, and Haertle first checked in at the 8:10 mark and Kettle Moraine facing a 21-13 deficit.
“We got off to a quick start, it’s 5-0, and next thing you know we’re down eight or 10 points and I’m like, oh boy, and our kids dug down deep,” Hansen said.
The deficit was 21-11 before junior forward Briana Binagi (14 points) ended the Polar Bears’ 21-6 run with a layup moments before Haertle entered the fold. As it turned out, that basket initiated a game-changing 24-3 run to end the half.
“They went on a couple more runs than we did. We couldn’t weather it,” Hortonville coach AC Clouthier said. “They played really well. They’ve got some really good players. Their bench really showed up tonight, so credit to the coaching staff, credit to those athletes on their team.
“We tried to put pressure on (Grocholski and Torres), and a lot of their other players made plays tonight, which obviously shows why they’re a state-championship team.”
Haertle scored four points before assisting the go-ahead field goal, as a 3 by junior guard Maddie Schopf put the Lasers in front for good at 24-23 with 4:42 left until the half. Then she scored four more to extend the lead to five.
“Something about Riley is she’s the one person I’ve never seen not go hard — ever,” Grocholski said. “Every single practice, I hate guarding her. She’s cutting hard every single cut, every single time. She’s the energy we have.”
After a free throw by Hortonville sophomore guard Rainey Wilson, who led all scorers with 28 points, KM went on a 7-0 run, as Haertle scored in transition to give the defending state champs a 35-24 halftime lead.
“Braelyn is so good defensively and Rainey is unbelievable,” Hansen said. “I thought early on we did a great job and then Rainey said OK, I’m gonna try to take over offensively and she did some good things.”
The Lasers would take their biggest lead at 50-32 when Torres knocked down a jumper with 13:01 remaining. That lead was trimmed to six, as Welson got going and sophomore guard Leah Heraly knocked down a 3 to suddenly make it 54-48 with 8:57 to go.
But Binagi answered with four straight and Grocholski, who faced double teams all night, scored with her left hand on the break to give KM some breathing room. The West Virginia recruit still managed to finish with 21 points and 14 rebounds, going 6 of 10 from the field and 8-for-11 from the free-throw line.
“Just kind of taking the game as it comes to me, especially when you’re getting doubled and tripled, but just finding the open person and trusting my teammates, I think that was the the big thing for this game,” Grocholski said. The Polar Bears (25-4) would keep coming in the form of Welson, who again closed the deficit to six when her triple made it 71-65 at the 1:15 mark. But the Lasers immediately answered when Binagi got loose for two, and Hortonville never threatened again.
“Rainey is special. She’s really good,” Hansen said. “But I think we’ve got a couple of special girls, too.”
That includes the player guarding her, as Torres fought through an off shooting night and Hortonville’s physicality to contribute 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and three blocks.
Kettle Moraine’s victory set up an all-area Division 1 state final with Brookfield East — something that’s never happened in Waukesha County history on the girls’ side. The two teams last played on Jan. 27, 2022, when KM rallied for a 50-47 regularseason victory. No matter what, both are going home with a trophy.
“They’re really good,” Hansen said. “The last few years, they’ve been all man-to-man and now they’ve pretty much played all zone this year. I take pride in the fact that it’s going to be an all-Waukesha final. It says a lot about our area, but it’ll be a good game.
“Obviously I want to hoist the gold ball again. But for us to get back and to be getting a ball no matter what, I’m just so proud of this team. I’m just ecstatic.”