Opponents have learned that gaining ground on the Kimberly Papermakers in the Fox Valley Association race is like trying to catch up to Usain Bolt in a 100-meter dash.
The Papermakers have separated themselves from the pack in the FVA and continued to pull away with a 59-37 girls’ basketball victory over fourth-place Fond du Lac on Thursday night.
Kimberly (14-0 FVA) has built a three-game lead over second-place Oshkosh North (11-3) with four conference games remaining and can win the title outright by winning two of those contests.
“It would mean a lot if we came through with this,” said Kimberly sophomore guard Jenna Smarzinski. “We bust our tails every day in practice. I know I’m playing for the seniors. It’s about them for me.”
Another Kimberly sophomore, sharp-shooting guard Frankie Wurtz, topped the balanced Papermakers (15-1 overall) with 16 points, while Smarzinski scored 15 and junior guard Steph Hetto chipped in with 10.
Hetto also delivered some lock-down defense on the Cardinals’ Taylor Penning, holding the 6-foot senior to just five points, six below her season average.
“We always say that it starts with defense with us,” said Hetto. “I tried to front her (Penning) most of the time and got a lot of weak-side help.”
Kimberly seniors Elly Pirman and Alison Miron also defended well inside the post against another Fond du Lac 6-footer, Briana Wagner. The two took turns shadowing Wagner in the Papermakers’ man-to-man defense and limited her to 10 points, two below her season average.
“I thought we won this game again with our defense,” said Kimberly coach Troy Cullen. “Fond du Lac’s two bigs are as good as any in the conference. Elly (Pirman) does a great job defending, but she got in foul trouble and Alison (Miron) came in and did a nice job. And Steph Hetto did a great job on Penning, who is a heck of a player. One thing that doesn’t get noted enough is how good of a post defender Steph is. She’s a huge part of why we’re successful.”
Kimberly jumped on Fond du Lac (12-5, 9-5) early, building a 16-8 lead at the end of the first quarter on three-pointers by Pirman, Hetto and Wurtz, and a buzzer-beating layup following a steal by Kenzie Heck.
The Papermakers outscored the Cardinals 15-4 in the second quarter to establish a commanding 31-13 count at the half and Fond du Lac moved no closer than nine the rest of the way.
“We have depth on this team,” said Smarzinski. “We have more than one player who can step up and as a team we just bond. We work well together.”
|Fond du Lac…||…8||4||15||10||—||37|
Fond du La
c: Warner 2, Greul 4, Kumbier 2, O’Brien 9. Hendrix 3, Wagner 10, Penning 5, Gravelle 2. Totals 14 7-13 37. Three-pointers: O’Brien, Hendrix. Fouls: 20.
Kimberly: Wurtz 16, Smarzinski 15, Vanden Heuvel 2, Pirman 7, Heck 2, Hetto 10, Miron 6, Chevalier 1. Totals 21 11-20 59. Three-pointers; Wurtz 3, Hetto, Smarzinski Pirman. Fouls: 14.
— Tim Froberg: 920-993-1000, ext. 423, or firstname.lastname@example.org; On Twitter @twfroberg