In tournament time, the rule is simple: Survive and advance.
That was enough to get Fox Valley Lutheran senior Abby Huntington excited after her team’s 33-22 win over the Little Chute in the WIAA Division 3 regional semifinal at FVL on Friday.
“Knowing that we have that first win, now we can keep going,” the 5-foot-9 senior forward said.
The Foxes (20-3) will host Wittenberg-Birnamwood in today’s 7 p.m. regional final. The Chargers (20-3) beat Freedom 49-31 in their regional semifinal.
For those who love 1-0 baseball games and 6-3 football scores because of their grit, FVL and Little Chute offered everything a person could want. For those who prefer to see the ball go through the hoop a lot, well…
“Little Chute made us work for everything we got, so we struggled getting into the flow,” said Foxes coach David Wenzel, whose team hit only three of its 14 second-half shot attempts. “Might have been some rust, too, since we haven’t played since two Mondays ago (Feb. 18 against Menasha). I thought that showed tonight.”
In a grinder of a game, this one nearly ground to a halt in the fourth quarter, as the teams managed just one field goal over the last nine minutes. FVL had built a 31-20 lead after three periods and took its time in the final period to look for good shots.
The Foxes never found one, at least one that went in, as they managed just two free throws by Abby Radue in the fourth quarter. Their defense, though, allowed only one Mustangs basket that came with 56 seconds left in the game.
“FVL, at least as far as I can remember from my stats, has the best defense in the conference, as far as giving up points,” Little Chute coach Jim Neubert said. “Our goal was to hold them in the low 30s and then we had to have a decent offensive night.”
The Foxes focused on Little Chute’s Abbie Botz. The sophomore faced continual double teams that defended her jumpers and shut off her driving lanes.
“She can shoot outside, she can dribble, so we had to have out close outs on the outside,” Huntington said of Botz. “We know she can take the ball wherever so we had to get that first step on her before she could get in the lane.”
Botz’s five points were the most by any Little Chute player, as the Mustangs (11-13) struggled to find a secondary scorer. FVL scored the first six points of the third quarter to go up 31-16 and held Little Chute without a point until Morgan Dercks scored twice in the period’s final 90 seconds.
The Mustangs finished by hitting just nine of 34 from the field (26.5 percent), including one of their last 11 shots, while committing 11 second-half turnovers.
“In the second half, if we could have valued the ball a little bit more, we would have been fine,” Neubert said. “It got kind of ugly, but we didn’t want them to transition on us. We handled the pressure OK but, underneath, we just didn’t have anything there.”
There wasn’t much for FVL, either, as the Mustangs forced the Foxes to move the ball around the perimeter and prevented a basket for the game’s final 12½ minutes.
“When we were stuck on 31 (points) forever, at least we made it tough for them,” Wenzel said. “We held a team to 22 points that was averaging a lot more than that. So while offensively we struggled, defensively, I was pretty happy.”
And at tournament time, happy is defined simply as getting another day.
“You always like a pretty win and one where you’d always like to watch the tape on that,” Wenzel said. “But the goal is to get to the next game and that’s what we did tonight.”
Little Chute: M. Dercks 4, Johnson 3, VanLankveldt 2, LeNoble 2, Botz 5, Schepp 2, Joosten 4. Totals 9 2-5 22. Fouls 16. Three-pointers: Johnson, Botz.
Fox Valley Lutheran: Bauman 3, Radue 4, Blob 2, Schultz 8, Hammer 6, Dorchester 2, Huntington 8. Totals 13 5-10 33. Fouls 9. Three-pointers: Bauman, Schultz.