Athletic teams that play aggressive basketball can usually do interesting things on the court.
Appleton North is such a squad and it found a way to freeze Neenah’s number on the scoreboard for what seemed like hours.
It wasn’t magic. It was intense, relentless defense that allowed the Lightning to put together a game-breaking 19-0 run that triggered a 51-35 Fox Valley Association girls’ basketball win Thursday night at the Ron Einerson Fieldhouse.
“What happened was that we picked it up on defense,” said North coach Joe Russom, whose team closed the season at 16-6 overall and 13-5 in the FVA. “Before that, we were kind of standing around and weren’t communicating. But then we started doing the little things we needed to be doing and it led to bigger things. When we do that, it makes the game easy. When we don’t, we get our butts kicked.”
North, a two seed in next week’s WIAA regional, led by a tight 18-14 margin midway through the second quarter, before closing the half with a 6-0 burst.
The Lightning seized control in the third quarter. North turned three steals into easy baskets and Genna Martin drilled a three, as the Lightning fired off the first 13 points of the second half to complete the 19-0 run and build a 37-14 lead. Neenah moved no closer than 13 the rest of the way.
“I knew it was a big swing, but I didn’t realize it was that big,” said Russom. “We feed off our defense. I could see we had a lot of energy out there, and that our spirits were picking up.”
The North run started with Neenah’s top scorer, Brooke Hiltunen, on the bench in the second quarter with three fouls.
“We were stuck on 14 for quite awhile,” said Neenah coach Andy Braunel. “I don’t think we made good decisions against their pressure. But North is a really good team. I think they should have been a one seed. They’re athletic and they really get after it. They’re very physical and aggressive. They jump every passing lane and seem to get their hands on every ball.”
Senior Meg Riebau and junior Mackenzie Greisch scored 15 points apiece for the defense-oriented Lightning, which finished the regular season with four straight wins.
“I think this team can go far in the tournament and I’m excited to see how we play,” said Riebau. “We work on defense probably 90 percent of the time in practice. That’s what gets our offense going. Tonight, we just stayed together and got the game to our pace and our speed.”
Junior Leah Perras topped the Rockets (10-12, 8-10 FVA) with 11 points, while Hiltunen added eight in her final regular-season home game on Senior Night. Fellow seniors Kenda Bombinski, Madi Resch and Hannah Evensen were also honored.
Appleton North: Riebau 15, Batley 1, Woycheck 4, Springstroh 5, VanHandel 2, Greisch 15, Martn 3, Oberbrunner 4, Garvey 2. Totals 16 17-24 51. Fouls 19. Three-pointers: Martin, Greisch.
Neenah: Perras 11, Bombinski 2, Zehren 3, Barnes 3, Meyer 2, Engelland 3, Resch 2, Hiltunen 8, Sedo 1. Totals 8 17-28 35. Fouls 21. Three-pointers: Perras, Zehren. Fouled out: Bombinski.
— Tim Froberg: 920-993-1000, ext. 423, or firstname.lastname@example.org; On Twitter @twfroberg