GREEN BAY – A goal set four years ago by the six seniors on this Wrightstown girls basketball team finally came to fruition.
The Tigers are heading to the state tournament for the first time in more than a decade after holding off Amherst 60-53 to secure the WIAA Division 3 sectional title at Green Bay Preble on Saturday.
It wasn’t easy – the Tigers held a double-digit lead with seven minutes to go, but four minutes later it was slashed to just two.
Tigers head coach Mike Froehlke was awarded the WIAA Division 3 sectional championship plaque and was about to hand it to a group of players ready to burst with happiness. But first, he had a message.
He told his players how proud he was. Next, he asked them to celebrate, but respectfully. After all, just one year ago, they were in Amherst’s shoes, downtrodden after a hard-fought, season-ending loss, a victory away from a state berth.
“It feels great,” senior Alisha Murphy said. “It’s been the goal since freshman year to get to state, and after last year, to get it done feels great.”
“Last year” would be the 2016 sectional final, also at Preble, in which Wrightstown came to play but ultimately fell to Appleton Xavier 64-56.
Murphy and Danielle Nennig were the top two scorers in that game, and Kailee Van Zeeland tied for third. On Saturday, those three were bound to make sure the Tigers took that next step.
It’s the third trip to the state tournament for Wrightstown (23-3), which qualified in 1989 and 2004. It will face Madison Edgewood (23-3) in a D3 state semifinal, Thursday at 3:15 p.m. at the Resch Center.
Some teams claim they don’t talk about future goals, only “one game at a time.” Wrightstown’s coach and players admitted that last year’s loss to Xavier was a talking point and motivating factor from November to now.
“We didn’t want our season to end with teams in this locker room again,” Froehlke said. “We want to end our season with smiles. We’ve got two more games to win, and then we’re looking to end it with smiles.”
Nennig, a senior, scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed five rebounds, and Van Zeeland, a junior, had 16 points despite missing a chunk of time in the first half after banging her knee diving for a loose ball. Murphy added nine points and four boards.
Another senior, Alexis Wolske, hit a huge 3-pointer to give the Tigers a 51-41 lead with seven minutes to go.
Wrightstown pulled out the ball in an effort to drain the clock, but it almost backfired. Amherst cut its deficit to just two, but free throws in the final minute by freshman Bridget Froehlke, Van Zeeland and Nennig were enough.
Wrightstown first had to figure out how to slow Amherst 6-1 junior center Heather Pearson. The smooth post player, who averages a team-best 13.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, scored the opening four points quickly, and it was clear something had to change for the Tigers.
“It was a team effort. We couldn’t matchup with her 1-on-1, so we had five girls on the floor focused on helping with post defense,” said Froehlke. “It had to be a team effort. I credit our guards as much as I credit our post players.”
Pearson finished with eight points and eight rebounds before fouling out late.
Senior forward Kendra Dombrowski had 12 points and 10 rebounds, both team highs, while junior Maizie Berry scored all 10 of her points in the second half for the Falcons.
The loss snapped a 20-game win streak for Amherst (25-2).
Amherst struggled early to figure out how to get by without all-conference point guard Grace Moe, who broke her leg in regionals. The Falcons committed six turnovers in the game’s opening five minutes.
But the team committed only two more the rest of the way.
“We did a tremendous job,” Amherst coach Gregg Jensen said. “(Grace) takes a lot of guard pressure off our other players. Our kids responded in situations that haven’t seen as much.”
The loss hurts, of course, but Jensen was proud of his team, how they worked hard and together en route to a Central Wisconsin-8 title and sectional final berth.
“They know all I wanted them to do is work hard and play hard, and if you do that, you left it on the floor, you have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Jensen. “And they’ve done that all year long.”
Amherst…21 32 – 53
Wrightstown…31 29 – 60
AMHERST – Jensen 7, Glisczinski 9, Groshek 1, Berry 10, Dombrowski 12, Boelte 6, Pearson 8. 3-pt: Jensen 2. FT: 23-31. F: 20. Fouled out: Pearson.
WRIGHTSTOWN – Froehlke 4, Guns 2, Murphy 9, Nennig 18, Van Zeeland 16, Glodowski 6, Wolske 6. 3-pt: Murphy 1, Nennig 2, Van Zeeland 2, Wolske 6. FT: 14-23. F: 25.