With its shooting touch lost, the Kimberly girls’ basketball team found a way to win: Keep playing tough defense and get to the free-throw line.
Despite scoring only six baskets in the game — and only one outside of five feet — the Papermakers held off Sheboygan North for a grinding 28-25 win in a WIAA Division 1 regional final Saturday night.
Kimberly (22-2) trailed 18-15 midway through the third quarter and couldn’t find an open shot against the Raiders’ zone trap. That’s when the Papermakers worked harder at driving to the basket.
“We needed to get more inside touches,” Kimberly coach Troy Cullen said. “We just weren’t hitting our perimeter shots. We can be a much better shooting team than that, but credit (North) for playing great defense.”
Kimberly’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Frankie Wurtz, did most of the attacking, going nine-for-13 from the foul line as the Papermakers went 15-of-26 on free throws.
“We had to get to the line and do what we could to draw the fouls because our shots weren’t falling,” said Wurtz, who led Kimberly with 12 points.
What made it harder to drive was getting near the basket and seeing Sheboygan North’s 6-foot-3 twins Mackenzie and Madison Wolf standing there. But getting close to the rim was necessary because Kimberly made only six-of-34 shots from the floor (18 percent), including one-of-17 from three-point range.
Yet Kimberly, which is holding its opponents to 27 points a game this year, stayed in the game because of its physical man-to-man defense.
The Papermakers survived an 18-point outburst from CJ Usadel, who was one of only three Raiders to score.
“Our defense really picked up in the second quarter, and stopping No. 44 (Usadel) was big, because she was knocking down shots in the first half,” said Kimberlyjunior Steph Hetto, who guarded Usadel.
“She’s a really good shooter, but our defense really picked up. We had weak-side help down low, which really helped.”
It also helped that Kimberly forced 18 turnovers, including 12 in the first half.
“We’ve struggled at times to take care of the basketball, but I’ve got to give Kimberly a lot of credit,” Raiders coach Eric Spielman said. “We knew coming in that they’re an excellent defensive team, and they certainly made it a challenge at times to get anything going. There are some things we can do to get better, but tonight it was Kimberly’s show and they did well.”
The Papermakers took the lead late in the third quarter by scoring seven straight points, capped by a three-point play from Allison Miron, to go ahead 22-18. But the Raiders (16-8) tied the game twice in the fourth, including 25-25 on a basket by Madison Wolf.
A minute later, Hetto grabbed two key offensive rebounds to keep possession, and Elly Pirman scored the go-ahead basket off a feed from Wurtz with one minute, 45 seconds to play.
After both teams missed free throws, and Wurtz went one-of-two from the foul line with 7.4 seconds left, Sheboygan North missed a contested three-point attempt to tie at the buzzer.
The next challenge for Kimberly is undefeated and defending state champion De Pere, which beat Kimberly 38-33 on Jan. 12. The sectional semifinal is Thursday at 7 p.m. at Ashwaubenon.
“They know how to win. We’ve got to do the things we do,” Cullen said.
Sheboygan North: Usadel 18, Mackenzie Wolf 4, Madison Wolf 3. Totals 9 4-10 25. Three-pointers: Usadel 3. Fouls: 21.
Kimberly: Wurtz 12, Miron 5, Hetto 4, Pirman 4, Smarzinski 3. Three-pointers: Wurtz. Totals 6 15-26 28. Fouls: 16.