Matayla Springstroh is practically a free-throw-shooting machine in practice.
Still, Springstroh hadn’t shot a free throw all night, so the Appleton North senior guard was admittedly nervous when she stepped to the line at crunch time looking to lock up a victory.
Jagged nerves and all, she handled the closer’s role superbly.
The senior guard nailed two clutch free throws with 11 seconds left to secure a tough 47-41 Fox Valley Association girls’ basketball win over a much-improved Appleton East squad Tuesday night.
Springstroh’s two key free throws came on an evening when North (3-1, 3-0 FVA) struggled from the foul line, hitting just 14 of 28, and they couldn’t have been more timely.
The Patriots (3-1, 2-1) had cut the Lightning’s lead to 44-41 on Sara Hagmann’s deep three-pointer with 14.2 seconds left and were a possession away from sending the game into overtime.
“My heart was racing. I was definitely nervous,” said Springstroh. “But I always tell myself to take a deep breath, zone everyone out and just go ahead and shoot like I do every day in practice.”
North coach Joe Russom knew he had the right person at the line.
“She’s money at the line,” said Russom. “If I had to choose someone for that situation, she’d be at the top. Matayla has grown up a lot over the last few years and I trust her at the free throw line.”
Senior guard Mackenzie Greisch overcame early foul trouble to lead the Lightning with 13 points, all coming in the second half. Springstroh added 11 for a balanced North squad.
“That’s a good East team and this is a good win for us,” said Russom. “I think it was our best offensive performance of the season. We had Mackenzie Greisch and Callie Pohlman, two of our key players, out basically the whole first half with three fouls. Then we lost one of our defensive stoppers, Jenny Woychek, the entire second half. But we found a way to manage it.
“I’m very proud of our kids. Our bench stepped up.”
East went just 4-19 last year but is playing a much better brand of basketball this season and stayed with North the entire game. North held a 15-14 halftime advantage and led by no more than six the rest of the way.
The Patriots were led by senior post player Mayra Villagomez, who topped all scorers with 15 points. Hagmann, who entered the game with a scoring average of 20.5 points per game, was held in check by the Lightning’s tenacious man-to-man defense. She finished with 11 points, but five came in the final 28 seconds.
“I don’t think we were able to match their poise in the fourth quarter,” said East coach Joe La Chapell. “We don’t feel real good about that. What we do feel good about is how these girls compete on the floor. They’re not happy being 3-1. They want to be 4-0. Now, if you had asked them, three weeks ago, if they would have been happy being 3-1, I think they would have been ecstatic. So, I’m glad they’re feeling that way.”
Appleton East: Schweitzer 5, Hagmann 11, Larsen 4, Madson 2, Werth 4, Villagomez 15. Totals 18 4-7 41. Three-pointer: Hagmann. Fouls: 23. Fouled out: Schweitzer.
Appleton North: Batley 3, Springstroh 11, Pohlman 4, Franklin 1, VanHandel 4, Riebau 5, Greisch 13, Garvey 4, Oberbrunner 2. Totals 15 14-28 47. Three-pointers: Springstroh, Greisch, Riebau. Fouls: 14.