ASHWAUBENON – The De Pere girls basketball team couldn’t obtain the golden finish it was aiming for.
Undefeated Appleton North proved to be too much for the Redbirds to handle on Saturday at the Resch Center when two Northeastern Wisconsin-based teams squared off in the WIAA Division 1 state championship game for the first time.
The Lightning (28-0) capped a perfect season with a 49-34 victory to claim its first state title in program history.
De Pere (25-3) was held to a season-low point total and had its 17-game winning streak come to an end in its attempt to win a fourth state championship.
The fact that the Redbirds were playing on championship Saturday at the Resch Center was a remarkable feat for the program, which bounced back from a .500 season, made the transition to a first-year head coach and overcame a season-ending injury to one of its best players in its second game.
De Pere’s pursuit of a state championship became even more difficult about midway through the first half when senior guard Olivia DeCleene went down with a leg injury in attempting to make a steal at midcourt.
“She’s the heart and soul of our team,” De Pere coach Jeremy Boileau said.
“All season long we’ve fought through different adversity and kept believing in what we’re doing and trying to remain positive in everything we do that good things will happen. Unfortunately, we ran out of willpower to keep things rolling.”
Despite the injury to DeCleene, the Redbirds came out strong to start the second half and tied the game at 27-27 on senior Anna Boyd’s second 3-pointer of the contest.
However, Appleton North came back with a 13-2 run to take its biggest lead of the game and never looked back. Junior Sydney Levy made back-to-back baskets during the stretch for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee recruit’s first points of the game after two early fouls kept her scoreless in the first half.
De Pere shot 29.1 percent (12-for-41) from the field, while Appleton North was a sizzling 47.2 percent (17-for-36) from the floor. The Redbirds still held the Lightning to a season-low point total.
Sophomore Rachel Kerkhoff led De Pere with 11 points. She made a field goal with 10 minutes, 41 seconds remaining. The Redbirds didn’t make another until senior Lexi Cerrato connected on a 3-pointer with 23 seconds remaining.
The best shot of the night, though, belonged to De Pere senior Lauren DeMille, who checked in at the end of the game with DeCleene and heaved up a 3-pointer that went off the backboard at the buzzer.
DeMille missed a majority of the season with a torn an anterior cruciate ligament knee in her knee in the second game of the season.
“Seeing Olivia and Lauren on the court one last time was the icing on the cake for us,” said De Pere senior Lizzie Miller, who finished with seven points.
De Pere had six seniors on its team this season, including Boyd, DeCleene, DeMille, Cerrato, Miller and Liz Nies. Nies finished with a game-high 10 rebounds.
“This season we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs,” DeCleene said. “And this game didn’t define our season at all. We have a lot of heart. We have a lot of faith. We didn’t get the gold ball like we wanted to, but we put up a fight.”
Appleton North, which led 20-16 at the half, was paced by Paige Schabo with 16 points, while Kari Brekke had 13 points, including a couple of 3-pointers in the first half.
De Pere committed turnovers on three of its first four possessions in spotting the Lightning an 8-0 lead.
The Redbirds were 0-for-4 from the floor to start the game before Miller knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner following a steal by Boyd. DeCleene made a steal and layup for De Pere’s next points and finished with two steals in her limited time on the court.
Saturday marked the fifth time the Redbirds were playing in a state championship game.
De Pere is 3-2 in state championship games, winning titles in 1983, 2005 and 2012. It also finished as state runner-up in 2010.
The Redbirds will celebrate their state runner-up finish Sunday at 12:30 p.m. during a gathering in the high school gym.
“It’s definitely not the way we wanted it to end, but this team has a lot of heart and it definitely showed throughout the whole game,” DeCleene said.
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Appleton North…20 29 – 49
De Pere…16 18 – 34
APPLETON NORTH – Klitzke 3, Schabo 16, Brekke 13, Pohlman 9, Levy 6, VanHandel 2. 3-pt: Klitzke 1, Schabo 1, Brekke 2. FT: 4-6. F: 11.
DE PERE – Nies 2, Schneider 3, DeCleene 2, Miller 7, Boyd 6, Cerrato 3, Kerkhoff 11, DeMille 0. 3-pt: Miller 1, Boyd 2, , Cerrato 1, Kerkhoff 1. FT: 5-6. F: 18.